Mea Shearim: The Ultra Orthodox Of Jerusalem

Image

Mea Shearim, The Ultra Orthodox Of Jerusalem

“Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.” Jon Stewart

Walking into Mea Shearim is like walking into a shtetl (village) in pre World War Two Eastern Europe. When you walk through this community they expect you to be respectful of their way of life and dress appropriately. There are signs in English for that.

fullsizeoutput_6776

Tzedakah boxes are posted all over to give money to the poor.

fullsizeoutput_676e

For religious Jews, giving is not an option. It’s a law.

fullsizeoutput_677a

Information is controlled by the chief rabbis of the different communities. The important information passes to the public, after being filtered, and hang as Pashkvil – street posters.

There are a couple of newspapers though not everybody purchases them. There is supposedly no internet and there are signs about that also.

fullsizeoutput_6779

There was something nice about seeing the large families all together, the fresh bakery smells and hearing the language of my childhood. It was a simpler time.

Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts.

For men, traditions in dress code include black frock coats and black hats. Long, black beards cover their faces, and many grow side curls.

fullsizeoutput_6777

Women and girls are urged to wear modest dress – knee-length or longer skirts, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders. Married women wear a variety of hair coverings, from wigs to head scarves.

fullsizeoutput_677b

The residents speak Yiddish in their daily lives, as opposed to the Hebrew language spoken by the majority of Israel’s population. The only use of Hebrew for residents is in prayer and religious study, as they believe that Hebrew is a sacred language to be used only for religious purposes.

fullsizeoutput_6773

Most of the men spend their days studying Torah, living off a meager stipend, government aid and sometimes their wives salaries. Some go to work. They are exempt from paying taxes and the mandatory army service that all Israelis have to do to.

As with all closed societies, the extremists set the tone. The gulf between secular Israelis and the ultra Orthodox is getting wider. There are more similarities between the extremist Islāmic and ultra Orthodox communities. Most stay in their community only leaving to go to the Arab Market and pray at the Wall.

The Orthodox have their own unregulated school system which does not prepare their children for the modern world. Religious schools don’t teach mathematics, science, or English; only the Bible. All day, every day. The men are expected to continue that Bible study for the rest of their lives. It’s all funded by the taxpayers. And the taxpayers are… secular Israelis.

It appears that secular Israelis are moving forward to global life into the modern world and the orthodox are moving backward to a more observant God driven one.

It looks like no one understands both sides and the situation seems to be getting worse.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Advertisements

Jerusalem, Old City

Image

Jerusalem Old City

“If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel’” Benjamin Netanyahu

My first trip to Jerusalem was in the seventies. My parents always paid for an Israel extension to my self financed Europe trips. I think they were hoping for an Israeli son-in-law. Our days started at the Jaffa Gate near our hostel. We would meander through the Old City in the heat of summer and end up at the Damascus Gate or the New Gate. You could wander back and forth through a stairway in the Western Wall. We walked in and out of the mosques, often just to cool off and enjoy the peaceful feeling inside.

When we got to the meat part which was deep in the market, I was always ready to turn back. It was the first time that I saw raw, dead animals hanging outside like that.There were a lot of flies. It was hot and smelled bad. We were allowed everywhere. One day, a young  Arab boy decided  to be our tour guide for free. He took us walking on the walls above the city. I remember that he said that they were the only red-headed Arab family in the market.

The Arab souq was our favorite huge shopping labyrinth to get lost in. They sold beautiful handmade backgammon sets, religious artifacts and boxes made from olive wood, interesting jewelry, worry beads, scarves, clothes and evil eyes. The bargaining was half the fun (even though we just got it down to the real price in the stores) “We dont hate the Jews,”said the people in the market. “It’s the Zionists we don’t like.”

On my first trip, I did not blame them. The Israeli boys we met were aggressive and the girls were mean to us. Cheap college day tours took us all over Israel from Jerusalem. We met a lot of Americans doing the same thing. The second summer I met nice Israelis. We truly believed that there would be a lasting peace.

I resisted coming back to Jerusalem for many years because I did not want to see what was happening. The Arabs and Israelis did not learn how to coexist. Now Israel the hero of my childhood, is seen by many as the oppressor. For some reason, they have more UN human rights violations than the most corrupt, brutal, sadistic, child army, third world nations. Israel wasn’t the attacker in the 48, 67 and 73 wars. They defended themselves and won. Isn’t that what happens in a war? Governments get land and young people die or get injured. The Palestinians like the American Indians had unfortunately lost the claim to their land from the British before Israel became a state. Israel built their country from nothing just like America did. It seems to be a hopeless situation now.

They call it apartheid by choice. There are Arab speaking schools and Hebrew speaking schools. The Arab schools are divided into Muslim and Christian schools.

The Hebrew Schools are divided into Orthodox and Secular Schools. There are divisions between the divisions. There are a few mixed schools.

I think those who call it South African apartheid have forgotten or never knew what South African apartheid really was. Yes there is prejudice on both sides  and many problems but it is not that.

The holiest city on earth is even more divided on my return many years later. It is still living as one but with a lot of new rules, security and boundaries.

This time, I am staying at the beautiful King David Hotel. As we enter the city from the nearby New Gate, Dvir, our tour guide, tells me that there is still only one red-headed Arab family in the market.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

 

 

The Street Is Your Gallery – Urban Art In Tel Aviv

Image

The Street Is Your Gallery – Urban Art In Tel Aviv

“The words  of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls” Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel

u

The gentrified  Florentin neighborhood is the area to go to find amazing street art and graffiti in Tel Aviv. 

The crumbling walls of Florentin will soon turn into high rises so go before that happens.

The person to go with is Guy Sharett who does an urban street tour.  You can sign up on his website Streetwise Hebrew http://www.streetwisehebrew.com.  It’s very popular.  I’ve tried to get on this tour twice before so book in advance. The tour is in English and my  group of twelve was international. He weaves some Hebrew, history, humor and insight into the one and half hour tour.

There is a major difference between Guy’s tour and other street art tours. He focuses on the street words to teach Hebrew and Israeli Culture.

We begin with a piece by Muriel Street Art.

We see a few of her pieces throughout the tour. Muriel Street Art wants us to think.

SENED creates Figures known as “kufsonim” (mini boxes) They are ready-made stencils that are spread all over the city. The characters were developed from an abstract of a cube.

missK is an eastern european artist who lives in Israel. Apparently some of the local artists do not like the growing number of graffiti tourists. 

We see a lot of her work in Florentin.

Ometz (Hebrew for bravery) writes street poetry. He is a religious scholar by day and street artist by night.

Dede is one of Israel’s most prominent street artists and the only one I knew of so I was glad to see pieces of his.

Solomon Souza is a British Israeli artist who is best known for painting faces on the shutters in the Mahane Yehudi market in Jerusalem.

It is only visible on Saturdays when the market is closed.

Frenemy creates colorful characters in chaotic environments.

Tiny Tiny Gallery on Florentin 18 shows slut machine until August 6.

 The “27 club” is a group of influential rock musicians that died at the young age of 27 of drug and alcohol abuse. Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse  are part of this group. Some say the blank face is the artist Kis-Lev.

.In Hebrew you can decipher each letter from the bottom.

In Arabic you can do it from the top. This word is a combination of toda and shukraan. It means thank you in both languages. The message is clear.

Tel Aviv is the most liberal city in the Middle East and attracts both local and worldwide street artists. There weren’t as many large-scale polished murals in Florentin as in other areas but smaller and rougher with different styles and materials.

  You will see amazing street art through out the city. Yes President Trump, Israel is the Middle East.

Fly safe,

JAZ 

 

We are Jews. We Bring Food. We Sit.

We are Jews. We Bring Food. We Sit.

“My feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but I shall go on living.” Pablo Neruda

I went to pick up my friend for a movie and her 30-year-old son was found dead in bed minutes before I got there.  I have to process another senseless death. There are orphans and there are widows but there are no words for parents who lose a child.

Senseless deaths always stir up the questions of faith and fate for me. I guess it must help to believe god has a plan in the face of tragedy but that saying never works for me. It helps to have a tradition – a set of rituals to go through at a time when your brain shuts down, a religious structure to follow, to get through the unthinkable.

I am very close with my friend. I knew the son that passed away – but not the other kids or shocked family members who had started to arrive. I said to my other friend who was with me. “I’m not sure that I should be here now.“ She said “We are here for a reason. We are Jews. We sit.” That is our tradition.

This is a pretty religious Jewish family and they will follow the laws strictly. Jewish people believe in a season of sorrow. We take a lot of time to mourn and heal our souls. Normal life seems over and it is a struggle to deal with the new reality. We need time. The mourning rituals are about the great value that we place on the life of each person.

I didn’t grow up understanding the Jewish traditions and the death ritual seemed bizarre to me. After a funeral service you go back to the house and laugh and tell stories about the person who passed away. Everyone is eating, deli platters and dry Jewish pastries. In fact, every Jewish event in Brooklyn, came with a deli platter. – the births, after the bar mitzvahs and the deaths. There was some weird cycle of life familiarity when I saw them bringing in the platters of corn beef, turkey, coleslaw, potato salad, pickles and lox of my childhood and family events.

It is an ancient custom for loved ones and friends to visit the mourners after the funeral.  The mourning period is called shiva and it means seven. The mourners sit and have visitors for seven days. It is a time to remember and tell the stories. They sit in my friend’s house which carries her son’s spirit so  that the memories will come more easily. It is important to do this to let the family know he will be remembered in our hearts always. Bobby  would have wanted us to be laughing. Bobby would have loved the stories.  It is emotionally and spiritually healing to have mourners and friends around for this time. If you are religious, you sit on small stools, to show that something has changed and to be close to the earth.

The first meal after the funeral is the most important. It is brought by friends and family. You must eat now to affirm life. You must eat because it signifies that you must go on.

We have a prayer that we say called the Mourner’s Kaddish. It is not in Hebrew but in Aramaic, which was the language of the people at that time. It has been said for centuries and there is some comfort in that link to the past. Praying is not easy for me, yet I have no problem saying this one since my mother passed away. I say it and talk to her at the same time. We have the same conversation each time. She says ”What are you doing in temple on such a beautiful day?”

But I also say it for other people who have died. I said it last week for the people in Charleston. I said it and thought however painful and unfair life can be, I hope their families can find a way to make their life good again. Not to forget their loss but to go on different than before.

I will say it often now for Bobby and his family, for the HUGE empty space in their hearts and for a sorrow so big it feels like it will never go away.

Fly safe Bobby

JAZ