Faith, Tradition, Prayer, Song, Feast, Conversation, Friends, Laughter, Community, Celebration, Love and Light. These are the words that come to mind when I think of my first real Shabbat experience. It is Friday night in Jerusalem and Shabbat is in full swing.
I arrived in Jerusalem yesterday in the very early hours of the morning. My best friend moved here two months ago, and seeing that it was only a three hour journey from Istanbul, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit him in his new world. It has been less that 48 hours since I arrived and I am already overwhelmed by all that I have seen, experienced and felt.
Yesterday was a day of very little sleep, hours upon hours of walking in very intensive heat, and the meeting of distinctly different religions. My best friend, who is a bit of rabbi, history teacher and tour guide all rolled into one, mapped out a long day of many sights. Needless to say, we hit the ground running.
First on the agaenda was the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the rock is a huge Muslim shrine, with a golden dome, that is considered to be the most famous Muslim sight in Jerusalem. Built on a sacred stone, which is believed to be the stone on which Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, the Dome of the Rock stands majestically, rising up out of the Jerusalem panoramic gleaming so brightly as to be seen for miles and miles. Built from 688 – 691AD, the Dome was not originally intended to be a mosque, but instead a shrine for pilgrims. Today, its beautiful mosaic walls and shining golden dome stand, as majestically as ever, in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem, interestingly juxtaposed with Western Wall, one of the most sacred spots in Judaism. While we were there, a Call to Prayer rang out and I was struck by how different it sounded from the ones I have become so accustomed to and enamored with in Istanbul. My adoration was by no means lessened, but instead grew even deeper as I heard this call that was seemingly new to me.
The next stop on our list was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built in 330AD and commemorates the hill on which Jesus was believed to be crucified and the tomb in which his body was believed to be buried. This place was the “mecca” for anyone of the Catholic or Christian faith – chalk full of artifacts that could be considered some of the holiest of the holy. The supposed site of Jesus’s crucifixion, the stone that his body was washed on after being removed from the cross, and the site where his body was believed to be entombed are all housed in this church. I was struck, as I walked around, by the overt displays of faith from the other visitors. People in prayer, people singing, people kneeling, and some even writhing with I guess was what they felt to be the presence of God. It was both interesting and admirable. At the same time, I was struck by my own detachment from theses same things that had brought others to their knees. Having been raised Catholic, I have been taught the stories and was well aware of the significance of the things that I was seeing, and yet, I felt no affiliation with them whatsoever. What I did feel was the intensity of other people’s faith and that was amazing to see and feel.
The final place on our agenda yesterday was the Western or “Wailing” Wall. A site that is considered to be one of the holiest spots in Judaism. The Western Wall is a section of the western supporting wall of the Temple Mount that has remained in tact since the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple approximately 2000 years ago. To an outsider, the wall is just a wall, but from what I understand, the Western Wall is believed to be a site where the Divine Presence of God is always present. Among the cracks and crevices of the wall, as high as the average man can reach, there are scraps of papers that have been crammed into the wall’s spaces – each bit of paper a prayer or letter or poem of some kind to God. At any time of the day or night, you can find people there praying This was an interesting thing for me, an outsider who has no knowledge of the jewish faith or history or tradition. While I happened to be there, there was also a large group of young women, that were obviously all in the same group, and all were in prayer. Girls were swaying back and forth reciting prayers from a book. Some of those girls (the ones that could push their way to the wall) had their faces pressed against the wall as they prayed and others had their faces buried in their prayer books. I asked someone what that was about and she said that it was a way to avoid being distracted by outside things when praying.
While writing this, again I am struck by how profound I found my experiences at the Dome and the Wall were and detached I was from any experience at the Church. My exposure to these traditions and faiths has tapped my curiosity and I find myself wanting to learn and understand as much as I can about these things that I know so little about. I find the devotion, the persistence of tradition and the intensity of faith to have tapped my thirst for further knowledge.
Peace and Love.