by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Having moved us into a new office and hired a bigger team to fill it, my employer insisted on a team building exercise. Being located in Jerusalem, he selected a group tour of the Old City.
We met at the Jaffa gate and proceeded into the narrow confines of the shuk (market streets) in the Xian quarter (as it’s called). Looping around a bit we came to the courtyard of the main Xian shrine in the Old City, the church of the holy sepulcher.
As a Jew I’m certainly not going to enter a church, especially not a main site of another religion. Neither did I intend to wait around in the courtyard in front of this religious site of another religion. I let my co-workers know that I would not await them here while they went inside and proceeded out the far exit of the courtyard to meet them after their (secular Israeli) tour guide took them through the site.
This placed me in almost as uncomfortable a place as the courtyard. All the stores leading to the courtyard were amassed with images and symbols of that religion, all staring me in the face. I edged a little farther down the street, placing me in front of another shuk area and next to a store selling scarves. As I didn’t know where the tour was headed next I didn’t want to move further (that being the first intersection), but I was only slightly less uncomfortable and out of place (further reinforced by the somewhat frequent passing of priests of that religion in ancient robes and costumes of that religion).
After standing there for about 10 minutes a voice called me from a nearby store. An older man, an Arab storekeeper, was offering me an open chair in front of his store. After a moment’s hesitation I accepted.
He started with some small talk. Where was I from, where did I live, how long have I been in Israel. He then asked what I thought of this, pointing to a group of Xian tourists walking by and a church at the nearby intersection. I responded that I was happy for them to come and visit “their holy sites” and help the Israeli economy by doing so.
He looked me in the face and said “the Torah says this is YOUR land, not theirs.”
He asked why I was waiting there, I explained about the tour and that Jews shouldn’t enter such a place. As we continued chatting a secular co-worker of mine who was late at arriving saw me and asked where the group was. I pointed him towards the entrance to the courtyard and told him they must be inside.
My host looked me in the face again and said “why didn’t you tell him that Jews shouldn’t enter such a place?” I mumbled something about secular Jews versus religious Jews and he just said “is he (your co-worker) a Jew?”
As we continued waiting and chatting, our conversation switching from Hebrew to English as it became more complicated (and beyond my conversational Hebrew abilities) a group of Xian tourists walked by on the way to the holy site. My host yelled out “Shfoch haMashcha al haGoyim – Pour out Your wrath upon the Nations!” and spit on the ground (a quote from the Passover Hagaddah and Psalms 79), to which I was shocked.
My tour group came down the street and I asked my host his name. He responded “the name of your great great great grandfather.” I paused for a moment confused thinking ‘he knows my family?’ Then I realized the answer is yes, he does. His name is Abraham (or Ibrahim in his language).
As I departed he said “tell everyone I’m a good Arab.”
Ibrahim was a good host and taught me 3 lessons that day…
1. Do NOT be bashful about what the Torah says about Israel. Either the Land of Israel is ours (the Jewish people’s) because G-d said so in His Torah…or it’s not.
2. Do NOT be bashful about being a religious Jew and sharing the obligations of being a Jew with those Jews who don’t know or don’t understand. (Respectfully and lovingly.)
3. Do NOT be ashamed of the words of the Torah or Tanach (the prophets, psalms, and so forth). These are holy words from G-d or inspired by G-d, and political correctness does not override them.
As we continued our tour some of my secular Israeli Jewish co-workers asked my why I wouldn’t enter the church. THEY DIDN’T EVEN KNOW!!!
When our tour came to the Kotel (Western Wall), I put my arms around my (male) co-workers and invited them over to the tefillin stand to put on tefillin. This time I wouldn’t be bashful. To my equal surprise, half of them took me up on it!