In Jerusalem, I felt like I lived with Jews.
Sure, there were Palestinians around. I would see them walking and driving occasionally in my neighborhood and often when I went into the Old City. I came to know a few in my ulpan, which is known to be among the most diverse offered in Jerusalem. But they were not everywhere. They were not a majority. Most women I saw wearing head coverings were Orthodox Jews. Most men I saw wearing long, robe-like garments were Orthodox Jews. It got to the point, over the course of the semester, where I often stopped noticing who had on a kippah and who was wearing tzitzit, because both were so commonplace. I expected to hear Hebrew rather than Arabic almost everywhere I went. I expected to hear the siren announcing Shabbat every Friday night. The neighborhoods in Jerusalem where I might have developed different expectations were largely barred to me.
In Jaffa, I feel like I live with Palestinians– some Christian, others Muslim. There are Jews here too, of course, but in my neighborhood I haven’t seen many. Jaffa has always been a little more mixed than some other areas, and it has gotten more-so recently as hipster Jews have moved into town. (Case in point: my marvelous apartment here came with a record player and a nice collection of albums.) Some Palestinians are upset about that (the Jewish influx, not the record players), while others view it as a potential for positive relationship building between two often-fraught communities. I have mixed feelings about living here. On one hand, I’m glad to be in a more diverse (and beautiful) environment. On the other hand, I feel a little bit like a gentrifying yuppie.
Three days ago, I got out of the cab and, with the help of a new neighbor, lugged my suitcases up the three-and-a-half floors to my new apartment. I started to unpack, and then, suddenly, heard two people begin chanting over loudspeakers.
I recognized the chant at once. It was the adhan- the Muslim Call to Prayer– emanating from the minaret straight ahead off of my balcony and from others nearby. “God is Greatest,” the muezzin sang. Allahhu akbar.
In the second blessing of the Amidah, the central prayer of Jewish daily services, we speak of Ha’El Ha’Gadol (האל הגדול)- God who is Great (and mighty and awesome etc…).
“I acknowledge that there is no God but Allah,” the muezzin sang. Ash-hadu an-lā ilāha illā allāh.
In the sh’ma, the closest thing we as Jews have to a credo, we acknowledge that Adonai- God- is our God, and Adonai is one.
Not every line of the adhan tracks onto Jewish prayer and practice, and nor should it. But it is beautiful and it is a reminder, I think not only to the Muslim community, but to all of us who are nearby, to be present to something beyond ourselves. I am so sorry, that to some people, this beautiful sound evokes fear and distrust.
Yesterday, as shabbat came to an end, I walked along the small streets from my home to the sea, perhaps 10 minutes away. I passed by Palestinian children– screaming, laughing, arguing, cooperating children– kicking a soccer ball in the alleyway right outside my apartment. I passed by hijab-wearing women having picnics and pushing their little ones on swings in the park next to the water. I passed by Palestinian couples holding hands as they walked. I passed by Palestinian elders sitting on benches and looking out as the sun descended into the luscious, vibrant waves. I passed by Palestinian fishermen trying to catch a last bite before darkness settled over the shore.
I can’t help wondering how the newly-inaugurated American President would react to being in the neighborhood where I live. Could he see the beauty here, the normalcy, or would he only see fear and the potential for violence? I don’t pretend that there are no Palestinians who wish Israeli Jews, and perhaps Americans, harm. But they are not a majority.
In the US, the president is able to look at our Christian community and ignore the percentage that would act to harm others. He won’t do the same for our Muslim community. Thank God for lawyers and judges and for the tenacity of protesters.
I walked along last night, watching Palestinians in restaurants, Palestinians complaining as they climbed long flights of stairs from the sea to the park above, Palestinians stopping at crosswalks so that Palestinians and Jews and anybody else could continue safely. And I heard the call once again as I looked out over the sea. And I thought, I wish I could share this peaceful moment with everyone who is afraid of Islam. I wish I could make the centering, settling nature of the adhan into a balm to rub onto their hearts. But, for now, I am glad to be able to keep listening.
(*Travel post/fuller moving to Jaffa post coming soon. But this was on my heart and I have 700+ pictures to sort through, so for now, there’s this.)