Mea Shearim: The Ultra Orthodox Of Jerusalem

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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What Do You Carry For Good Luck When You Travel?

“You know what luck is? Luck is believing you’re lucky…to hold front position in this rat-race you’ve got to believe you’re lucky.” –  Tennesse Williams said by Stanley Kowalski in Street Car Named Desire

I am a believer in good luck charms when you travel. I never get on a plane without one. There’s a fine line between a bit of harmless (and possibly helpful) superstitious behavior for luck, and developing an obsessive and crippling dependence on some elaborate routine.

My good luck charms vary. For years I had a lucky flannel shirt that I wore on the plane. I convinced myself, it kept me safe from plane crashes, hijackings, robberies and getting caught bringing too much in at customs. I’m sure anything could have happened without it. Now it is all about some talisman or amulet to keep me safe while I travel. It changes but I wear the same one for a whole trip.

A talisman basically brings you good luck, as opposed to an amulet, which is designed to protect you from evil. For me it is an object designed to attract positive things – such as good luck, interesting people, unexpected adventures – and to protect you from negative things while you travel.

When I was briefly into Kabbalah, I wore a red string around my left wrist. It is used to ward off bad luck caused by the evil eye. It was knotted seven times and blessed. I figured if it was good enough for Ashton Kutcher and Madonna, it would keep me protected as well.

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After that I still liked red for luck. When it comes to red in China, you can never wear too much. Red symbolizes good fortune,happiness and joy. A circle always symbolizes wholeness or unity so I sometimes wear red bracelets when i travel.

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In Japan. I learned about Omamori which are used in both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. They are rectangular pouches and gain their power from words written on paper or wood and sealed inside a cloth bag and can be purchased a temple. . Each omomori has a different purpose so make sure you get the right one. The words could be the name of the shrine, or a section from a sūtra, or some other powerful word. Never open the cloth to see what is inside! It is disrespectful and the omamori will lose its power. Omamori draw some of their power from the concept of the power of enclosed places. The covering of the omamori encloses the sacred words and so puts them in a separate realm where they can be effective, much as Shinto shrines are set within a separate space marked by torii gates. I usually attach one to a carry on bag  if I’m not wearing a bracelet.

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Having spent a lot of time in Mediterranean countries, I’m a fan of the evil eye charm. You will see them all over Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. It is based on quotes from all the ancient religious texts that” the gaze of someone who harbors feelings of envy or jealousy can bring misfortune upon the one who is seen — the one who “gets the evil eye.”Iit is used  as a safeguard against misfortune –  worn or hanging in their house, businesses or on their babies. I’ve had them on necklaces, bracelets earrings, ankle bracelets and sometimes just on a string.

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There are many others you can use. Ancient Egypt is a good place to go for charms. The Ankh and the Scarab are protection from Evil.

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Religion is another great source for superstitions. St Christopher is the patron saint to all people who travel. A St Christopher medal was once compulsory for any Catholic traveler. The Star of David, Hamsa (hand), the Holy Cross, Celtic Cross, Guardian Angels, beads blessed from a Buddhist Temple, written words, from the Quran, Bible or Torah can also be used.

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Folk tales and Myths have many as well. Four Leaf Clovers, Phoenix, Horns, Fish and Dragons are a few. I always buy the local good luck when I travel.

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Good luck charms feed the human need to look beyond ourselves for solutions to our difficulties, while still encouraging us to do our best. They are more like a boosters than a total solution. When things are tough, it feels good to hold a charm in your hand and hope for things to get better. They seem to be working for me. So go ahead, carry that lucky coin, wear those lucky socks or underwear because you can never have too much good luck.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ