Walls and Windows

My morning adventure was with walls. I woke up to a beautiful day, and after another great run [I could get used to waking up to the call to prayer (around 5:15 am), falling back to sleep for a bit, and then waking up again with the sun (around 6:15) to go running around the walls of the Old City], started the day by “walking the gates” [taking pictures of all the city gates as I went by], until I came to the Dung Gate, which is where you go to get to the Western Wall. Then, I just sat in front of the wall for an hour or so, thinking, praying, and watching. Some observations: First, I found a new wall plaque, describing the Western Wall [and its role in Judaism]. I quote: “The Western Wall is one of four massive walls surrounding the Temple Mount, which is Mount Moriah, where, according to tradition, the world was created, the binding of Isaac took place and this is where the First and Second Temples stood. After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem. Access to the sacred Temple Mount was forbidden. Pilgrims therefore chosed [sic] the Western Wall as the place for prayer and Lamenting, both because of its proximity to the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount, and because of the ancient tradition that ‘the Divine Presence Never Moves from the Western Wall.’ For one thousand, nine hundred years, the Wall was deserted but the sight of its stones was engraved on every Jewish heart….” It goes on for one more paragraph, but that is the part that I thought was most interesting. In Judaism, the Temple Mount is the center of the universe, and God’s very presence dwells singularly, uniquely right there, at the wall. In Christianity, of course, the Temple Mount does not have that sacred character, but it sure does seem like many Christians want to jump on that wagon. Is it appropriate for Christians and others to place prayers there? I’m going to see if I can find out what that looks like from a Jewish perspective, but even more I am thinking for myself, what is the REASON a Christian would do that? It’s a genuine question, not a judgment; and I am trying to think, theologically, if it is a good, bad, or indifferent practice. Second, women wear mostly black here [I’m sure you can imagine how I am standing out everywhere I go, especially with my bright blue jacket that I have hardly taken off the whole trip! Luckily, I love it, and I’m not sick of it yet!], and both Jewish and Muslim women–of all ages–dress very modestly. Now, I don’t know how much of this has to do with the fact that is also winter, and cold, but aside from the high heeled boots many Muslim women seem to favor [and some colorful headscarves I have seen], it is all business in black. This is particularly true for Orthodox Jewish women, of course. Third, I came through the security line with a large group of big, pushy Nigerian women, who were all FREEZING–they were bundled up like it was the North Pole, which, compared to Nigeria, it may as well have been. They hit the wall en mass, and shoved their way right up to it; and when they were done, almost all of them turned around with their backs to the wall and walked out. [This is the major mark of a tourist–Marty had warned us that you don’t turn your back to the wall out of respect. None of the Jews do, if you pay attention.] I also watched three Russian women get their picture taken–two young women & a daughter; right after the picture, they RAN away from the wall–they were cold, too–and one of the women was quite noticeable, running in her low-cut t-shirt. I’ll leave it at that. Suffice it to say that in the entire time we have been in this country, that is the first time I have seen any part of a woman’s chest area! Not exactly “respectful attire.” Fourth, speaking of other things that are forbidden at the wall, the “no cell phone usage” is apparently only a general guideline–I saw both men and women using their cell phones, although surreptitiously. Fifth [sort of sorry I started numbering these, but I’m almost done], at one point an older Jewish woman came up to me and said something in Hebrew, which, of course, I didn’t understand. She kept repeating the same word, and I just shrugged my shoulders. Finally she wandered off, and I saw her approach another woman, and that woman gave her a few shekels. A-ha! The next woman she tried that on refused. The signs say clearly that there is no panhandling at the Wall. Sixth, as I was walking out of the women’s area, there was a flurry of conversation as two Jewish women tried to explain to the man who was intent on walking down to the Wall on the women’s side with his wife that no, he could not pray on this side. One woman finally said, “If you go down there, they will lynch you!” He got the point. That happened another time shortly after that, too. It’s funny what people don’t see, even when it is right in front of their face: I mean, it couldn’t be clearer right from the get go that there is a women’s section and a men’s section. When I left there, I wandered around the Jewish Quarter for awhile–that was an interesting experience–and then just started walking. I wanted to walk around without a map, just to get a feel for it all; I was confident I wouldn’t get trapped–lost, sure, but I knew eventually I would find a gate. So, I started walking with no idea where I was going; and, after a little while, I turned a corner, and there was Redeemer Lutheran Church! I couldn’t believe my luck; and sadly, I have to admit that my good fortune made me cocky. I was an hour early for the noontime German service I was planning on attending, so I decided to just keep walking: “Surely, I’ll be able to find my way back easily enough.” Yeah, well, not exactly. I got hopelessly lost after a short time–so badly that I actually had to go outside the Old City twice, by two different gates, just to get oriented again; so bad, that at one point, I even lost the marketplace streets, and was winding around residential streets. You can’t see up at all–things are too close–so Redeemer’s large bell tower is of no assistance, until you stumble upon it right in front of you, which I did again at 11:55 am. I have no idea how I found it! I was never worried, exactly–again, I felt totally safe the whole time, and knew that I could always find my way to a gate; but it definitely was a little unsettling, and it made me feel a little vulnerable. It would be terrifying as a young child, I think, to get separated from a parent on those streets–all the vendors seem to be selling the same things! So, that was the morning. The German service was very nice–I loved the chance to speak a little German with the German tourists, and the Germans are great singers! Then I came back to the hotel for a little sandwich I had brought up from breakfast [remember, they have vegetables, hummus, etc. at breakfast every morning!], and then had my afternoon adventure with windows. Marc Chagall is one of my all-time favorite artists, so I just knew that while I was here I had to take a cab out to the Hadassah hospital [which you enter through a shopping mall, by the way], to their synagogue, to see the Chagall windows. And, trust me, they do not disappoint! The synagogue itself is small, and modest, but then, when you have windows like those, everything else needs to be simple and plain. This is why the Parochet & Bima [the ritual coverings for the ark and the table] are entirely cream, hand-woven out of wool, with a little silk and cotton, and only a little gold and copper thread as embroidery. You just can’t possible compete with the color explosion Chagall always delivers. So, there are twelve windows, with each window representing one of the tribes of Israel. Chagall was Jewish, of course, and raised in an ultra-orthodox Russian home [He depicts his childhood home in one of the windows, the Dan window.], in a Hasidic community. The windows were commissioned in 1959, and first exhibited in the Louvre, and then in New York City, before they were installed [and the synagogue dedicated] on Feb. 6th, 1962. This is how Chagall described the windows [thanks, Wikipedia]: “For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world. Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating. It has to live through the perception of light. To read the Bible is to perceive a certain light, and the window has to make this obvious through its simplicity and grace… The thoughts have nested in me for many years, since the time when my feet walked on the Holy Land, when I prepared myself to create engravings of the Bible. They strengthened me and encouraged me to bring my modest gift to the Jewish people—that people that lived here thousands of years ago, among the other Semitic peoples.” That is exactly the feeling I had looking at the windows–they are, indeed, both elevating and exhilarating. Just one more interesting tidbit about them: four of the windows were damaged during the Six-Day War of 1967. A letter was sent to Chagall notifying him of the damage; and he wrote back [the letter is still in the archive] saying, “You take care of the war, and I’ll take care of the windows.” He repaired them, of course, but in Jewish tradition, rebuilt is never exactly rebuilt, so in the beautiful green Issacher window, he used a purple pane of glass for the donkey’s stomach, with a white hole in the middle. He left shrapnel in that hole from the shelling. Wait–one more thing! As I was listening to the explanation of each window, and writing FURIOUSLY [with Chagall, there is always more there than you can possibly see or take in at first glance]–my pen even ran out of ink [darn pen!]–the narrator explained that on the Judah window, which has a pair of hands held aloft, you see that the hands are each missing fingers. Chagall did this on purpose, to avoid the prohibition against making graven images. The missing fingers assure that the hands are only an indication, but not a full form. So interesting. And then it was evening: I ate dinner tonight surrounded by southern accents–a group from Louisiana just came in. I’m pretty sure they are Baptist, not just from some things I overheard [which will go unrepeated], nor from their geographical location, but instead because the poor woman tending the wine stand had nothing to do! [Unlike when the Lutherans were having dinner!] One person did walk over and hand her his dirty dishes, which she found annoying. [The beautiful thing of being alone is all the opportunities for observation it affords!] Now I am back in my room, watching the replay of the 49ers/Saints game. Now I have finally seen all the playoff games, albeit somewhat belatedly!

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