Shabbat on Tiyul Rihla
Our first ever trip over Shabbat included Sabbath-related learning, singing and sharing between participants. The program was scheduled for Friday and Saturday, with accommodations provided to fully include traditionally observant Jewish participants.
Our Palestinian project leader, together with our Muslim tour-guide, took most of our Palestinian participants to Al-Aqsa mosque for special Yom Il-Juma (Friday) prayers while Israeli participants gathered to the west of Jerusalem’s Old City.
After the two sides met for introductions, our two guides (one Palestinian and one Israeli) together lead the group to the Mamilla Pool, an impressive archaeological site tucked next to an ancient Muslim cemetery off of Agron Street in the city center. Jews understand the site as evidence of a thriving Jewish kingdom in the area, while Muslim participants recognize the graves as a testament to Muslim longevity in Jerusalem. The green grass on all sides is “Independence Park,” as named to honor the establishment of the State of Israel.
Here we see the conflict in a microcosm: a tiny piece of land that both Palestinians and Israelis recognize as their own, and relate to with different meanings and senses of history.
When the conversation turns to the Museum of Tolerance, currently under construction on a corner plot of the Muslim cemetery, we learn that Muslim law actually permits the building of new structures over old graves if the graves are at least 40 years old. There is some similarity here to Jewish law. Our Palestinian guide points out that the construction of the Hotel Palace (now the Waldorf-Astoria), initiated by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem himself, Haj Amin al-Husseini, took a different corner of the same cemetery plot.
In both instances (the museum and hotel) one can site political motives for initiating, and legalizing, new construction over historic burial grounds. The race to set facts on the ground is on-going, and has favored different powers at different points in time.
As we walk towards our hostel to check in, we notice shops closing, traffic calming, and pedestrians heading home as West Jerusalem prepares for Shabbat.
Later that evening, we navigate the allies of Nachlaot Neighborhood in search of the Moishe House, where dinner is ready. We pass many synagogues, belonging to Jewish communities originating in the Levant, North-Africa, Iraq, Iran and more. One participant suggests that Jews used to be everywhere in the Middle-East, and are therefore indigenous to this land no less than Arabs of the region.
Before dinner begins, a long time friend of Tiyul-Rihla, Elhanan Miller, introduces Shabbat in fluent Arabic with self-translation to Hebrew. Many faith traditions observe a day of rest, including Christians on Sundays, Muslims on Friday, and Jews on Saturday.
We are grateful to our friends at Moishe House for hosting such a powerful evening program, and for all of those who contributed to it.
Read more about day two of the tour.
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