Pray for the well-being of Jerusalem: May those who love you be at peace. May there be well-being within your ramparts, peace in your citadels.
It was time for the Jerusalem trip of our pre-army program for young women. The entire three-month program uses the Galilee as its classroom, but we do think it's important to include one short excursion to the holy city as part of the curriculum. Together with the girls, we planned various encounters and walks. However, as the weekend approached, it looked more and more as though we had chosen the wrong date. It turned out that this particular Friday was the day of the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, and for the preceding two weeks there were riots and the massive burning of garbage dumpsters by ultra-Orthodox protesters around the city and threats to paralyze the country by blocking intersections on Friday morning. Driving around Jerusalem can be challenging on a good day; what had we gotten ourselves into? And then there was the IDF shelling in Gaza in the same week, and predictions of violent reactions by the Arab population in Jerusalem. So we called our hostel to postpone, but were informed that their cancellation policy was 100% payment for cancellation less than two weeks in advance. What to do? We couldnt bring ourselves to throw away the money nor could we then have afforded to reschedule.
So we bit the [proverbial, thank God] bullet and went ahead. Friday morning we started out at the Western Wall, where the police outnumbered the civilians by what appeared to be at least 3:1. Our guide took us to "The Little Wall," a section of the Temple Mount wall hidden in an alleyway in the Moslem Quarter, where in all my tours of Jerusalem I had never been. There was no one in the small space but our group and a couple of cops who seemed bemused by our enthusiasm, and who listened eagerly to our guide's explanation, asking questions and adding details of their own. We walked back through the crowd of police (preparing for Moslem riots on the Temple Mount, which never occurred) to our van, and set off toward the Mt. of Olives, enroute to the place where the Separation Fence cuts the old road down to Jericho. Just as we were leaving the Old City area, a young policewoman stopped us. "Where to?" she asked our driver who, being a classic Jerusalem cab driver, answered with a question, "What's it to you?" The ensuing dialogue was amazing, and ended with her waving us through, never having actually found out where we were headed.
While we were encountering the depressing reality of the Separation Fence in Jerusalem, the Gay Pride parade had been separated off into a stadium, and passed without incident. The next morning, after attending Shabbat services at Shirah Chadashah, a very interesting and very popular "egalitarian Orthodox" synagogue, we met with Tanya Tzion, a dynamic young educator who told us of the fascinating year she spent using Trembling Before God, the powerful documentary film on homosexuality in the Orthodox community, to do workshops for Orthodox educators around the country.
Later, after picking our way through the garbage left by anti-Gay Pride riots, we met with Vardit Rosenblum, one of the first ultra-Orthodox women to be trained and certified as an advocate in divorce court (which are all, of course, Orthodox rabbinical courts). Fully a part of her community, and yet fully aware of its flaws, articulate, forceful, open-minded she upended any stereotypes our group may have been harboring regarding ultra-Orthodox women.
Jerusalem may be the city of peace, but it has never been a very peaceful city. The sociologia\st Peter Berger talks about the modern identity marketplace; I think Jerusalem is more like an identity battleground. And yet, all the media hysteria notwithstanding, it was a beautiful, quiet, early winter Shabbat, sunny but cool, with singing, and learning, and a feeling of Shabbat peace that is, after all, unique to the place. Good thing we didnt cancel.