Friday, February 24, 2006

Shabbat Shalom

A peaceful Sabbath.

I walked the half hour or so from my office back to my hotel in east Jerusalem this evening, after the sun had gone down and the Jewish Sabbath had begun.

The streets were virtually empty of traffic, except for a few taxis and the odd police car or delivery truck.

But people were out in great numbers. All walking briskly, as if with great purpose. I assume they were off to the synagogue.

Our offices are on Yaffa Street, a main thoroughfare. But just a street or two in from there is an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood call Mea Shearim. This place is famous for its welcome of outsiders on the Sabbath. If you have the effrontery to think of driving through on the Sabbath, you run the risk of having your car stoned. I was warned by colleagues that if I wanted to walk through there, not to smoke and not to use my mobile phone. I passed.

I just continued down Yaffa Street and then to a side street that would take me to my hotel. But all along the way, I say people hurrying to their appointed prayers.

And the picture was a memorable one. Lots of families, some even with prams. Fathers, mothers and children, all dressed in their Sabbath best. All black.

Those men whom I would assume were the most "liberal" wore a kippa (skullcap. Others were much more formal, with black suits and large fedoras. Later on, I came across some fellows who really stood out. Long black coats and knee-breeches, some with black hose, others with white, and incredible, oversized fur hats. Some of the younger men, those with white hose, wore what appeared to be a long silver or grey tunic under their coats, complete with a dark sash around the waist.

I just ambled along, down the hill toward my hotel, which is located in the Israeli-occupied Arab part of the city. If any of the synagogue-goers notice me, they gave no indication of it. At the bottom of the hill, I reached Route 1, which basically divides east and west Jerusalem. A police car, blue lights flashing, was parked on a traffic median, and two policemen seemed to be stopping cars randomly, checking drivers' IDs. I suspect the drivers in question were Arabs, but didn't really stay around long enough to watch.

Back at my hotel, I was totally in the Arab world. I stopped into the garden restaurant for a beer, to the sickeningly sweet smell of sheeshas (water pipes) and to the sound of Arabic music. Every Friday night, the hotel has an oud (lute) player in, but he is due later. I am off to the going-away party of a colleague not far away.

More another day.

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