by M. Maxine George
The Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv graphically explains why Jews feel such strong bonds of kinship with all Jews throughout the world. The museum, located on the grounds of the Tel Aviv University, portrays the traditions of the Jewish faith as practiced by the many Jewish people scattered throughout the world - the Diaspora. As I walked through the museum I began to understand the importance of those traditions in bringing their people together. In spite of the many differences produced by environment, the traditions bring them together spiritually.
All through Israel Shabot begins on Friday at sundown. The Jewish Sabbath sees the country stop working and begin the traditional celebration of their Holy Day. Until sundown Saturday the country observes a day of rest. Businesses close down, buses stop running, (however taxis are still available) as Israel observes the Sabbath. Some of the more orthodox observers follow a strict no work policy, which includes even elevator buttons. To accommodate these people hotels have Shabot elevators that stop at every floor. Hotels also have Shabot rooms which accommodate people with specially controlled lighting. Some restaurants are open, however most Kosher restaurants are closed. To the tourist, this is only a minor inconvenience as hotels do maintain their normal food services. I observed many families, each member dressed in their best for Sabbath, come to the hotels for their Shabot dinner. Special areas of the hotel are set aside for lighting the Sabbath candles. Probably the majority of Jewish men in Israel routinely wear little scull caps. However, it is not uncommon to see the Orthodox Jewish men standing tall in their long black coats, long black trousers and high, black, broad brimmed hats, with two little curls of hair bobbing by their ears. Showing their strong devotion are Hasidic Jews, who wear tall, round black fur hats, even in the sun on hot days.
Judaism plays a huge roll in the government of the country. Differing political parties are promoted by the many Jewish sects. Palestinian citizens are entitled to vote also. They too have a long history here in the Middle East. In point of fact, they share much of the same history and some of the same prophets as the Jews. In conversation with me, an Israeli Jew referred to the Palestinians as their "cousins," because it is believed they all descend from the same ancestors. Yitzhak Rabin, then Ehud Barak took the country to the brink of a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. Unfortunately violence again erupted and has escalated to the point where great concern is felt throughout the world, for all the inhabitants of the region. It is to be hoped that meaningful dialogue between these two peoples, who are bound by their traditions to the same homeland, will resume and together they will find a means to a peaceful co-existence.
In Jerusalem, the Old City has been home to many differing traditions. The most holy sites of three of the world's great religions are found in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Western Wall of the Second Temple, built by King Herod 2000 years ago, still stands within the city. It is more popularly known today as Judaism's most holy site, The Wailing Wall. A ramp beside the Wailing Wall takes you through the Palestinian security to the courtyard where we find the Dome of the Rock, from which Mohamed is believed to have taken off into eternity. On the same site is the Aqsa Mosque. This complex is considered to be the third holiest site in the Muslim religion. The Via Dolorosa, or the streets through which Jesus carried the Cross pass through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where Christ is believed to have been crucified. It is not uncommon to see processions of Christians , accompanying someone who is carrying a cross, recreating that walk through the streets of the Old City. The large variety of religious or ethnic dress worn on the streets of the Old City, would be unusual in any other place on earth. Here it only adds to the fascinating smorgasbord of people upon whom the eyes of a people-watcher can feast.
As with people the world over, the moderates live quite peaceably together. It seems to be the fanatics who have created problems and animosity between these neighbours. It is my fervent wish that further dialogue and commitments will bring a peaceful future for all the inhabitants of this Middle Eastern Country. Their Hebrew salutation says it all - Shalom meaning Peace.
Story and pictures by M. Maxine George
* February 2002: Here I must add that as time has passed peace has proved elusive. It is still the fervent desire of people throughout the world that a peaceful settlement to the conflict in the Middle East will be negotiated. I do hope that note is taken of the Dalai Lama's message, to look for the values shared by all people and to build on those qualities. Shalom
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