Day 12: Modesty and Music

Trip Start May 19, 2009
Trip End Jun 16, 2009

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

(Day 12, Jerusalem & Abu Gosh) Sabbath in Jerusalem: a good opportunity to get out of town. First, though, we took my friend David's advice and headed to some of the most religious neighborhoods in this very religious city, to see what it looked like at its extreme. The streets of the neighborhood were actually physically blocked off by police gates and other obstacles to prevent any traffic from passing through and violating the strict rules of the Sabbath. (In the past, disputes over the limits of religious neighborhoods have led to stonings of cars passing by on the Sabbath. One ambulance come into the neighborhood--no siren--but it just parked and the driver walked away.) Signs everywhere in Hebrew and English put visitors on notice that "groups" were not welcome, and that women, especially, should not cause offense and provocation by wearing immodest clothing. 

We were very self-conscious about being interlopers into this alien, cloistered world, as our dress, while modest (long pants but short sleeves), was in stark contrast to the extremely conservative residents: women in headscarves and ankle-length black dresses; men in a wide variety of clothes, but all black and white. Some wore huge fur hats (were they ventilated? they sure looked hot to wear), black or off-white robes and white stockings, while most were in black suits and white shirts, almost all in hats of various kinds. Men wore beards and sidecurls (peyot). The streets were very busy with people walking about; they seemed to take brief notice of us, and a few were quite solicitous when we paused to decide which direction to take. The stores featured religious ritual items; the walls of buildings were plastered with notices of deaths, as is customary (they can be found in any newspaper as a matter of course). Photography is also a Sabbath violation, so while there were innumerable "photo ops," I could just snap a few shots surreptitiously.

We took a side trip in the area, too, through Ethiopia Street. Not only does it contain the former residence of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (who almost single-handedly revived the Hebrew language a hundred years ago), but also the impressive Ethiopian church called Debre Gannet, which means the "Monastery of Paradise" in Amharic. A few Ethiopian men and women rested in the courtyard, and after taking off our shoes, we went in to the circular church. Very ornate and full of bright colors everywhere you looked (including up), it was a lovely sight. We walked all the way around, dropped some money for charity, and headed out.

Escaping the limits of the area, we hailed a cab (this time the fare was negotiated instead of using the meter, both methods being rather common) and took refuge in the very large Sacher Park, enjoying a rest on a bench in the shade and some popsicles in the children's section while we waited to get picked up by our Israeli friends Malka and Dror, who came from Tel Aviv to join us for our suburban outing. Soon enough, we were on the road to Abu Gosh, an Arab village in the hills outside Jerusalem, home to a twice-yearly choral music festival. I was surprised (why?) to see that the small village was choked with traffic, but we did find a spot to park, right in front of the highly regarded Abu Shukry restaurant, where we had a veritable feast of salads, kebabs, felafel, and hummus, while enjoying the view of the town spread out on the steep hillside, catching up, discussing our trip and impressions of Israel, and asking questions about religion and politics. 

We headed down the hill to our first concert, waiting for the church doors to open by enjoying some Turkish coffee, mint tea, and (terrific) baklava outside in the pleasant courtyard. As is typical in Israel, the crowd jammed into the small door (queues are rare) and we found spots in the cool, spartan crypt of the church. The quartet and singers descended the stairs and treated us to a great concert, a mix of 17th century songs, Latin, Jewish, traditional and modern Israeli, and Western songs (from Zorba the Greek to the Beatles) in lovely arrangements. (As it turns out, Israeli audiences applaud in unison after a short while.)

We climbed the steep hill to the very top for our second concert, again passing time with refreshments and a beautiful view (even seeing as far as the outskirts of Jerusalem). The concert was in a much larger church venue; the large chorus and orchestra played selections from Brahms and Bruckner, a requiem by Faure, and a really interesting modern piece by Whitaker, which simulated a thunderstorm.

As it was sunset, Malka and Dror drove us back into town, where we parted company (until we meet again in Tel Aviv). Kevin and I went looking for Chakra, a restaurant we read about and wanted to try. Turns out it had moved from the address we had, but after a bit of a walk, we found it (luckily, since it's unmarked). We sat at the bar in the subtly lit, stylish place. The bartender/server was great: friendly and efficient, even treating us on the house to pita and a sampling of mezze (dips) when we decided against appetizers. The food was great as well, and plenty of it. 

Heading across the street, we decided to take in a live music concert in a very small venue (75 seats) catering to college students. It was sold out, but after a long wait, we were finally allowed in, although we had to stand or sit on the stairs. Still, the concert was pretty good, a very intimate performance by an earnest young soloist, Aviv Guedj. After an hour (it started at 10:45 p.m.), we snuck out and headed back to Baka.
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weekilter on

Great findings!
I guess I must be too 'used' to Israel, but I really enjoy all the places that you've happened upon. You've taken some great pics as well. Very interesting to hear of your visit to Mea Shirim.

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