Sunday, December 27, 2009

Life Above the Streets

Most tourists in Jerusalem's Old City, seem to be so captivated by the offerings of the various souvenir shops or the ancient stones that they never look above their heads. Thus, they don't realize there is life above the streets.

The majority of the shops lining the streets of the Old City have apartments above, which is where most of the residents live - i.e. above street level.

In this photo the woman is hanging her laundry in the midst of a cobweb of electric wires - some old, some new, some legal, some illegal. 

Thursday, December 24, 2009

13 Years Ago Today

Thirteen years ago today, Christmas Eve 1996, Colleen and I met on a blind lunch date at the Chinese Kitchen in Odessa, Texas.

Today, we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Jerusalem, and Grace took this photo for us.

We wish each of you a Merry Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Farewell Israel Baseball

Twelve years. That's how long I was intimately involved in the activities of the Israel Association of Baseball: umpire, umpire trainer, club team coach, national team coach, fitness instructor, board member, peace envoy, guidance counselor and who knows what else.

Mine was an unlikely beginning: As I was walking down King David street, I heard the sound of a ball hitting a bat come from behind the YMCA. Curious about that sound, I went around the building to see, to my utter surprise, a baseball practice. I stood around watching, making mental notes of things that could be improved, and when the players took a break, I asked the coach if he would mind if I made some suggestions. He was receptive to my input and asked if I wanted to umpire the scrimmage game that was about to start.

That's how it started. A twelve year relationship that has taken me to places like Cyprus; Moscow; north, central and south Italy; and Philadelphia, Omaha, Kansas City and Pittsburgh for various competitions. A relationship that gave me the opportunity to participate in two Jewish Olympics, once as an umpire, once as a coach. A relationship that gave me the opportunity to travel to Jordan as a peace envoy in a failed effort to forge a relationship between Israel Baseball and Jordan Baseball. A relationship that gave me the opportunity to meet Major League Baseball owners, players, scouts, and executives.

But most importantly it was a relationship that gave me the opportunity to invest in the lives of young men, to see boys mature into men who will one day move beyond baseball to be soldiers and university students and build careers and families. And hopefully do those things better because of something they learned in one of my programs.

I'm thankful to those who offered any type of support to my efforts whether it was a financial gift, a kind word, friendship, a word of wise counsel, or by running interference for me with my adversaries.

Now, it's time for my four-month leave of absence to officially become a resignation. Thank you Israel Association of Baseball, it's been a great ride.

Here are a few pics of my last act as Israel Baseball national team coach.

Monday, December 21, 2009

You May Feel Underdressed if . . .

. . . you come to tour the Holy Land without your Jesus clothes.

Question: Do we really honor the Lord Jesus by wearing a "likeness" of him on our clothes and sitting on that "likeness" as we ride in a bus all day? 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Davinci Code in Arabic

I wasn't surprised to see The Davinci Code in Arabic, but I was a little surprised to see that it was published by the Arab Scientific Publishers. Actually, after further consideration, the publisher didn't surprise me.

For the record, there may have never been published a less scientific book than The Davinci Code, and the Arab Scientific Publishers has undermined any shred of scientific credibility with their decision to publish this book.

If you are interested in why I would say that, here is one good resource.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hannukah 2009: My Gift - Day 6

Our Hannukah gift this year was a 2 year residence visa.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Shabbat Shalom

Hannukah Starts Tonight

Jelly doughnuts are a wonderful part of the Hanukkah holiday. The doughnuts were chosen as a symbol since they are cooked in oil and the holiday is about the miracle of the oil. I'm happy about this tradition.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Temple Mount Tensions - Pt 1

"A Jewish bride and her father were arrested on the Temple Mount the day before her wedding, after an Arab policeman claimed he saw the father muttering prayers and the bride nodding her head."
That is the opening paragraph of an Arutz 7 report that details the arrest in more detail. (The Jerusalem Post version can be found here.) No doubt, there will be some dispute regarding the accuracy of some of the specific details in the Arutz 7 report, but the story itself is indicative of the growing tensions that I've witnessed on the Temple Mount in recent months.

Muslims claim the 34-acre Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary) is their third holiest place, while Jews call it Har HaBayt (The Temple Mount) and claim that it is their holiest place. Currently, the location is under the political and military control of the Israeli government. However, it is religiously overseen by the Islamic WAQF, which keeps a close eye on all the activities in the area to make sure they are consistent with Islamic religious sensitivities. And deference to religious sensitivities - any real or perceived sensitivities - seems to be a de facto concession of control.

Since my Arabic class is in the neighborhood, I have been up on the Temple Mount several times in the last few months. I enter the only place I can, the tourist gate, and exit the gate that is only about 100 yards from my school. And during my visits, I watch to see what's going on: who's visiting, where they go, what the soldiers are doing, how the monitors monitor, etc.

This will be the first of a series of blogs - mostly a photo essay - relating what I've seen and learned during my visits.

In recent months I have had the opportunity to visit with Muslims who have an interest - personal or professional - in what is happening on the Mount. They have told me of their fears that Jews will pray in the Al Aqsa Mosque or elsewhere, that the soldiers are an unnecessary desecration of the place, and that Ariel Sharon ruined it for everybody (i.e. non-Muslims) who would like to go inside the mosques or the Dome of the Rock when he visited (i.e. desecrated) the holy place. 

Here are some of the things I've seen:

The presence of Israeli soldiers on the Temple Mount - for many reasons - is offensive to Muslims, and in this photo you can see that they are eating, which multiplies the offense because it is forbidden for non-Muslims to eat in the Haram al-Sharif.

I find it interesting that non-Muslims are forbidden to eat in the Noble Sanctuary, but it is common to see Muslims having picnics and birthday parties there. Why would it be a desecration for one group to eat there, but not for the other? It's not like Jews and Christians are offering their food to idols before they partake. And one would think the trash often left behind by Muslim diners would be a desecration of their own third-holiest location. (More on this in the near future.)

It has become common for groups of Jewish men to go up on the Temple Mount to walk around, and some suggest, to pray there. My guess is that some do, some don't.

You should notice that they are being escorted (some would say monitored) by the policeman that is following them. It is also common for one of the WAQF monitors to be nearby to make sure that they don't pray.

Before ascending, these men go through the ritual bath to purify themselves. Also, they generally have been schooled in where they can and can not go (from the Jewish perspective), so that they don't accidentally enter into a holy area. Not all Jews agree that it is appropriate to ascend the Temple Mount in its current condition; and it goes without saying, that among those who believe it is permissible to go up, there isn't complete agreement as to the "go, no go" areas.

In the above photo, the guys appear to be lining themselves up with the eastern side of the Dome of the Rock, which many people believe to be built over the location of Herod's Temple. And by lining themselves up in this way, some may conclude they are intending to pray toward the Holy of Holies. While I did not witness their entire visit, I did not see them pray. But, I was drawn to this particular scene because the WAQF monitor was giving the Israeli policeman an earful for allowing them to drift too far away from him "so that they could pray."

Question: If Jews and Muslims believe in the same deity - as many Muslims and Jews claim - why should it be a problem for Jews to pray to him in the Noble Sanctuary?  

I'm fully aware that there is a game of cat and mouse going on here: On occasion(s), some of the Jews who ascend the Temple Mount are trying to be provocative. At the same time, the Muslims sometimes overstate the infraction. So much so, that it has become a maxim that to determine if a Jew is praying on the Temple Mount, one only need to see if his lips are moving. According to the article mentioned above, the maxim is no longer just a colorful story told by tour guides.

I personally know people on both sides of this issue, and I expect that tensions are only going to increase.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Judea and Samaria or the Occupied Territories

Many have asked, "What's the difference between Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, and the Occupied Territories?" In the Middle East conflict, vocabulary is very important. The vocabulary a person uses usually is a tell tale sign of that person's political position.

For example, those that refer to the area generically known as the West Bank by their biblical names, Judea and Samaria, then it is safe to assume they believe Israel has a legitimate claim to that land. Those that call the West Bank the Occupied Territories, clearly do not believe Israel has a right to that land. By the way, the term West Bank refers to the land that is on the west bank of the Jordan River, which is alternatively called the Occupied Territories or Judea/Samaria.

Here's a sign that uses the biblical terms: Judea and Samaria. It says, "Judea and Samaria: The story of every Jew." Can you guess guess the political position of its designers?

Monday, December 07, 2009

I Was Surprised to See . . .

a Jewish star in the center of this window in the Al Aksa Mosque. Perhaps that's where one of the new windows will be installed.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Graffiti: On the Temple Mount

Someone has spray painted "Allah" and "Muhammed" in Arabic on one of the gates leading to the upper platform on the Temple Mount.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Holy Land's Underbelly

On Wednesday evenings, my friend Bill and I go to Tel Aviv to teach at the Sudanese church, which is located near the central bus station in south Tel Aviv. This an area that is heavily populated by foreigners - some legal, some illegal.

One Israeli described the demographics like this: "It's so crowded with foreigners that it's hard to find an actual Israeli there. And if you do, they are simply passing through going to or from the bus station." His observations are pretty accurate. After our meeting with the Sudanese men, we generally get a bite to eat at the nearby pedestrian mall. Besides eating, we also wander around trying to strike up conversations with whomever we can; but mostly we are observing, trying to figure out how things work in this island of foreign workers.

Not only is this the foreign workers' stomping ground, it is also an area with homeless people who have found themselves on the streets due to drug abuse or mental illness. I'm sure there may be some other reasons, but those seem to be the most prominent.

The homeless guys in the photo above, are sleeping in the shooting gallery. That's where heroin addicts hide in the shadows and inject themselves  (see the video below). The place is littered with filth, all the things associated with homeless drug addicts: human waste, trash, treasures collected from dumpsters, rats, empty lighters, spoons, and old needles and syringes.

At times it's overwhelming to see the collection of misery that has settled in that area. And, I'm talking about the majority of those in the area, not just the heroin addicts sleeping in their own waste. My heart aches both for the addicts and for those who have made their way to Tel Aviv - however they did that - to work one level above slave conditions (worse in some cases) in an effort to send some money back home, or to seek a better life for themselves.

What's astounding is the emptiness and collective hopelessness that permeates the area. Pubs of one ethnic variety or another are the gathering places, the anesthesia that dulls the emptiness that is life for so many of these wanderers.

In contrast to this painful scene, are the men who meet us to study God's word at the Sudanese church a couple streets over. They, too, have tales of hardship to tell, but they aren't empty or hopeless. The difference? It isn't in the hardship of their lives verses the hardship of those we painfully observe on the walkway each week, because their lives are equally challenging. The real difference is the hope of the gospel.

I'm encouraged every Wednesday night to sit with these men and see a real example of the hope and contentment the gospel offers; to see the effects of believing in the supremacy of Christ over all other suitors.

Here's a video of two guys shooting heroin in the shooting gallery last night.

UPDATE: Here's the same video with brightness and contrast adjustments:

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I Was Skeptical

One of the things that many tourists say after being in the Old City is "except for the Jewish Quarter, it's so dirty."

In fairness to the other quarters, it should be noted that the Jewish Quarter has been completely rebuilt since 1968, so if for no other reason, it simply looks cleaner and neater because it is much newer. It should also be noted that the Jewish Quarter also seems to get better municipal services.

Having offered that caveat, I want to add that the people in and around the Jewish Quarter don't seem to throw trash on the ground to the degree that people in the other quarters do. Now, that statement is an observation, not the result of scientific data gathering. I simply see what I see: People in the Jewish Quarter tend to not throw trash on the ground, while those in the other quarters have historically just thrown their candy wrappers, coffee cups, cigarette packages, etc, on the ground.

So, I was skeptical when I noticed new trash cans (with liners) in the Muslim Quarter, specifically along the high traffic Al Wad Road, which connects Damascus Gate with the Western Wall Plaza.  That the cans are chained down might suggest some higher ups in the municipality were skeptical as well. The cute stickers say (only in Arabic) "The city is your home, keep it clean."

The Old City has several full time street sweepers, which probably accounts for some of the ease with which its residents toss their litter on the ground. Kids and teens seem to be the worst, but I see a lot of adult men modeling the litter dropping custom, too. I've also been told that in the Arab culture exists the idea that "what's inside my home is mine, what's outside is not." And this maxim probably contributes to the acceptability of simply dropping litter wherever one may be when there's litter to be dropped.

Further observation: While there is still a considerable amount of littering in the target area, the campaign does appear to be helping. I hesitate to use the word working, but slowly it might actually be working. Obviously time will tell, but there is already a noticeable difference in the appearance of Al Wad Road after the first month or so. And, to my great surprise, the cans are still in place and stocked with liners. I thought for sure they would have been stolen or destroyed within the first couple of weeks. I was wrong.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shabbat Shalom

The Muslim Feast of Sacrifice

Originally Published on January 2, 2007

Eid al-Adha, sometimes called the Festival of Sacrifice is an important festival for Muslims around the world. It occurs in connection with the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, serving as the conclusion to the (at least once in a lifetime) required journey for all Muslims.

The point of the festival is to remember and commemorate the trials and triumphs of the Prophet Abraham. Some suggest that Eid al-Adha is the most important festival in Islam because God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son, who was ultimately replaced by a ram, was Abraham’s greatest trial and triumph. Abraham obediently took his son, placing him on the altar (Qur’an: on his forehead) and as he raised the knife, the angel directed him to replace his son with a ram that was nearby.

Whether the Festival of Sacrifice is the most important or not, the symbolism demonstrated in the festival activities is quite powerful. For me, the most memorable activity of the festival is the sacrificing of animals: camels, goats or sheep. And this might be the most memorable for many. In fact, for some 1400 people in Turkey in 2006, the sacrifice will be the most memorable part because they all ended up in the hospital emergency room as a result of wounding themselves in the process.

Sometime last year (2006) while preparing for a lecture on Islam that I was to give, I was reading the Qur’an and stumbled upon a very interesting (to me) discovery. I was reading Surah 37, as-Saffat, when I came upon the detailed story of Abraham sacrificing his son, which was mixed in with stories of several prophets. Eight to be exact.

The names of those prophets named in Surah as-Saffat are: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Aaron, Elias, Lot, and Jonah. You will see that Ishmael’s name is missing. Why is this important? Because Muslims, during the Festival of Sacrifice, are commemorating the near sacrifice of Abraham’s son Ishmael, not Isaac as the Bible teaches. When I discovered the absence of Ishmael’s name, it was one of those explosive moments when one thinks, “I can’t be reading this right.” That being the case, I re-read the passage and Ishmael’s name was still absent. Then, I got a pencil and re-read the chapter, writing down the list of people named in as-Saffat. And, my first reading was still correct: Ishmael isn’t named. In fact, he isn’t named as (almost) being sacrificed anywhere in the Qur’an.

This has surprised every Muslim I have asked about it. Usually, the encounter goes something like this:
Me: Does the Qur’an say that Abraham attempted to sacrifice Ishmael?
Them: Yes.
Me: Do you know where it is written that Ishmael is the object of sacrifice?
Them: It must be in Surah Ibrahim. Let me find it. Hmmm, it’s not here.
Me: Perhaps you can look at Surah as-Saffat.
Them: Yes, here’s the story. Here it tells about Ibrahim who went to sacrifice his son.
Me: Does it say Ishmael there?
Them: Well…his name isn’t here, but it’s him. It must be written somewhere else. Let me look for it.
Me: I’m sure you will not find it because it isn’t there. Does it bother you that Ishmael’s name isn’t actually mentioned in a story so important to Islam?
Them: Well, I’m sure it’s somewhere else in the Qur’an.
Me: But it’s not.
Them: It must be…
It isn’t and I find that very interesting. Especially since one of the main places Muslims say the Bible has been corrupted is here, where Abraham agrees to sacrifice his son. The Bible says that son was Isaac, Islam disputes that. But the Qur’an doesn’t specifically name Ishmael within the story itself. I wonder why?

One gentleman that I spoke with asked his imam to call me and answer my question. When I posed the question to the imam, he said that I was correct: Ishmael’s name isn’t found in the Qur’anic version of this story. The understanding that Ishmael was the intended sacrifice is Islamic tradition, which is binding upon Muslims to believe. Therefore, all Muslims believe that even though not specifically named, Ishmael was the son whom Ibrahim prepared for sacrifice.

My question: What happens when tradition seems to go against the text? “Which is more authoritative,” I asked the imam. His answer: “Neither. It doesn’t work like that in Islam. The Qur’an is the Qur’an and the Tradition is the Tradition. They go together.”

For those wondering: NO, I wouldn’t embrace the Qur’anic version of this story if Ishmael’s name were specifically mentioned. I fully believe the Bible’s version and simply use this “irony” as a conversation starter with Muslims.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Tools of the Trade

I recently met a Jewish scribe in the Old City, and here is a picture of his desk. As you can see there are a couple of cups of coffee remnants as well as various shapes/sizes of pens and edging tools. I would like to stand and watch him work, but so far he hasn't agreed.

I was a little surprised at how messy his desk appeared, but was reminded of my own work bench when I was a jeweler. I think people might have been surprised at how messy my bench was considering that I was handling their priceless family treasures.

Here's a photo from 20 years ago:

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Gift of Bread

A wealthy foreign, Muslim donor has generously provided bread for needy families through a coupon redemption program in Jerusalem's Old City.

Bakeries throughout the Old City have been enlisted to supply 10 or 20 pitas for each coupon redeemed. The bakeries are then reimbursed monthly according to the number of coupons they have fulfilled.

The baker that I spoke with about this program said its a good program, but he doesn't like participating because he doesn't feel comfortable that people divert their eyes from him because they are embarrassed by using the coupons.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tools of the Trade

During the recent tensions related to the Temple Mount - specifically Jews ascending and allegedly praying in the mosque, and the Muslim youth's potential violent response - the police monitoring each gate were prepared with riot shields.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This Made Me Smile

I was going through my files and ran across this valentine that Grace made for me this year. It made me smile.

She signed her name right to left with reversed letters, which shows the influence of her Hebrew studies.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Public Word of Thanks

Colleen, my wife, is in Houston, Texas helping her mother who is undergoing radiation treatment. Colleen has been gone for 6 days now, and every day it becomes more clear to me how much we need her here.

Colleen, thank you for being a "taker carer." (I don't think that was a word until now.) Thank you for helping take care of Meema, and thank you for taking care of us. I'm sure I don't realize the full extent of how you take care of us and our home, but I want to thank you for all that I'm more aware of at this moment.

Grace and I miss you and wish that you were here right, right, right now. 

All our love,
Craig and Grace

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jimmy Swaggart in Jerusalem

I saw Jimmy Swaggart in Jerusalem this morning . . . on television. As I was sitting in the coffee shop, I noticed that Jimmy Swaggart was being broadcast on the large, flat screen television.

He and other preachers were being beamed in from Cyprus via Middle East Television's satelite broadcast. No one but me noticed since the sound was turned down and the subtitles were in Arabic.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

They May Look Intimidating . . .

. . .  but they are here for your protection. In this photo there are both civilian policemen (blue) and military border guards (green). I took this photo during a particularly tense period, so they were dressed a little more heavily than they might be on calmer days.

I particularly like the shin guards the border policeman is wearing. I have a photo of a Jordanian motorcycle cop wearing a batting helmet. Perhaps I'll dig it out and post it side by side with the Israeli border police with shin guards for a "police in baseball gear" photo exhibit.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Kid's Delight

The owner of all this candy is a man named Isaac. He's not proud that he owns it all. In fact, he would be happy to help you become the owner of this delicious delight. Not the store. Just the candy, which he sells by weight.

He was surprised when I greeted him in Arabic, and was all too happy to let me take pictures of his candies and to help me with my Arabic. His question was the same as some of my readers: "Why do you want to learn Arabic." My answer wasn't what another Arab man later in the day incorrectly suggested: "That's CIA Arabic."

Here's my real answer: "I want to learn Arabic so I can speak with Arabs in their language." The gospel is that important.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Arabic: Can You Read That?

As my Arabic studies progress, I catch myself trying more and more to pick out identifiable words from inscriptions around the city. While on the Temple Mount, I focused on the script that goes around the octagon building that supports the Dome of the Rock.

It is a particularly difficult script (for me), but I was able to identify a few things.

"Can you pretty easily read the script going around the Dome," I asked. "Yes, because I have it memorized. We start memorizing it in first grade" was the answer I received.

That struck me.

First, memorizing the script on the Dome gives local Muslims a heart connection to the Dome of the Rock; or more correctly, the whole of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. And that is particularly true when it is done at an early age. The social and political implications of such a connection are worth consideration as the issue of control of and entrance to the Temple Mount makes its way to the front page of the news cycle.

The second thing that struck me about children memorizing that particular script is that I know from talking to others that that script isn't a stand alone memory verse for Muslims. Many Muslims around the world strive to and succeed at memorizing the Qur'an, which is about the size of the New Testament.

I don't personally know any Christians who have memorized the New Testament. I've heard of not more than a handful who have done it, but I don't know them. I'm familiar with various children's ministries that "focus" on Bible memorization, but most of them focus on isolated verses. Which is to say, very few Christians memorize large sections of either the Old or New Testaments. Why is that?

I do have a few friends who have been an encouragement to me to do much better in Bible memory; they have endeavored to memorize whole chapters, even whole books. May their tribe increase, and may they continue to challenge me in Bible memory.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

He's An Evangelist for Islam

A very close member of this guy's family recently started to witness the glories of Islam to me. He described to me the emotion of going on the pilgrimage to Mecca and standing before the Kaaba. "Here and here," he said as he tapped his head and heart, looking heavenward. "There really is power in the soul when you stand before the holy place."

After that, he began to tell me of all the Christians who are converting to Islam, "even Baptists," he added as a final push. Well, I didn't say the Shahada. Why would I, when I already know the glory of Christ and his cross (Galatians 6:14)? What a treasure!

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Balfour Declaration

November 2 is remembered by some Israelis as Balfour Day, since the "Balfour Declaration" was drafted on that day in 1917.

Last week that day came and passed without much fanfare, though the declaration was mentioned to me by an Arab friend as he rewrote some Middle East history for me.

"The Balfour Declaration called for a Jewish home in Uganda" he informed me. In fact, the Balfour Declaration calls for the establishment of a Jewish homeland "in Palestine." (Click on the image to see a larger, more easily readable image.)

That he missed this one so wildly, makes me wonder how accurate he is in reporting what happened at this or that conflict point as he keeps me up to date on what's happening in the local struggle between the Jews and Arabs.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Problem for Old City Settlers

I noticed the pejorative “settler” intentionally used in a brochure advertising tours of settler communities inside the Old City. The intention of the tour obviously was to negatively highlight the growing presence of Jews in both the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City.

I didn't participate in that tour – though I would like to do so one day – but I did tag along on a tour that was intended to positively highlight both the historical and currently growing presence of Jews in the Muslim and Christian Quarters of the Old City. In other words, it was intended to be the polar opposite of the “settler” tour.

On this tour I easily noticed the anger of Arab shopkeepers (of all ages) as our guide led us through the market. I also noticed that the younger the shopkeeper, the more likely he was to verbalize his anger toward these Jewish interlopers. And thus was born the idea to stop by one of the “settler” shops in the Muslim Quarter and talk with the owner.

A few days later after my Arabic class, I stopped by a “settler” shop and visited with the owner to see what it was like for him to open his business in the midst of people who despise his existence in that spot. I wanted to know how he gets along in this neighborhood. What he told me surprised me.

Our conversation was conducted only in Hebrew, which took some dogged determination on my part since I was in Arabic immersion mode. I thought speaking in Hebrew (rather than English) would help him feel more comfortable with my questions; and I thought accidentally dropping an Arabic word in the conversation would be unhelpful.

He was a very friendly guy whose name slips me at the moment. His religious and political identifications were “provocatively” and openly displayed from the front door to the back wall of his shop, so there was no need to ask if he was Jewish. So, after a bit of small talk, I was easily able to move into the questions that interested me.

“What's it like to have your business here? Do you have problems with the neighbors?” I asked, wasting no time getting to the heart of my interest. He seemed to dismiss my serious question with a question of his own: “Who doesn't have problems?” I know everybody has problems, but I wanted to know about HIS problems as an orthodox Jew setting up shop in the midst of Muslim shopkeepers in the Muslim Quarter!

“The problems aren't the problem," he continued, "the solution to the problems is the problem.” Now, that may take some time to digest, but it is definitely worth thinking on. This statement moved our conversation in another more philosophical direction, but at this point, I was along for the ride.

While we were talking, I was watching the neighbors to see how they reacted toward him. And though I didn't really notice any obvious signs of distaste, I didn't notice any warmth toward him either. Perhaps they had just decided to ignore him. (I think I'll try to visit the Muslim shopkeepers next.) He tried to persuade me that he doesn't have any issues with his Muslim neighbors. At least nothing new. That's an interesting thought.

And then, the surprising statement: “Our problems with the Muslims aren't as serious as our problems with the Christians.” I didn't respond; I just waited for him to explain, which he did: “Our problem with Muslims is physical. When a finger is cut off, it's a problem, but it's only physical.” “Okay, . . . continue” I thought to myself as I nodded to prod him along. “Our problem with Christians is spiritual. Taking my finger is a problem, but taking my soul is much worse. And we've had this problem for 2000 years; much longer than our problems with the Muslims” he explained.

That thought isn't foreign to me. In fact, any mention of Christian missionaries, Jews for Jesus, or Messianic Jews in the Jerusalem Post or Arutz 7 is sure to draw similar statements in the comments forum. It's not uncommon to hear religious Jews say (or write) “missionaries are worse than Hitler. He only wanted to kill our bodies.”

What may be surprising to some of my readers, especially those who see themselves as Zionists, was that this “settler” who lives in the midst of daily tensions (social and political) about his presence among Muslims, was so quick to dismiss those problems and highlight what he sees as a far more serious problem: the Christians and their message.

We talked more about the Bible and the messiah, and when he was ready to get back to work, he drew our conversation to a close with this witty thought: “Do you know what Jews say when we're talking about the messiah with Christians?” Yes, but I thought I would let him deliver the punchline: “When messiah returns, we'll ask him if it is his first or second visit. Then we'll know for sure.”

With that, he shook my hand and went back to work.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A New Window for the Mosque

On a recent visit to the Temple Mount, I had the good fortune of meeting the glazier for the mosque. Sometimes we don't think about religious buildings needing repairs (of all types), but they clearly do. As you can see in the photo, the mosque has many windows, and some of them are being replaced.

The glazier was a nice enough fellow, particularly when he invited me to see his work more closely. This is the window he is currently crafting to replace one of windows in the above photo.

Though I've been inside the mosque a few times, I didn't remember the windows being stained glass. But, when I showed the photo to a number of Muslim friends (without explanation), they all immediately said, "That's from the mosque, how did you get that picture?" I smiled and said, "I just used the Arabic that I'm learning."

From outside, it's hard, if not impossible, to see that the inner windows are stained glass because each unit has a second, clear outer glass and the source of light is from the outside, which causes a reflection. 

The glazier was very proud of his work, which appears to be of a high quality. He also seemed satisfied to be the glazier for the "third holiest sight" within the Islamic system. And, I guess that might give one reason to be satisfied. 

I'm scheduled to go on a special visit to the mosque in the near future, so I'm looking forward to seeing these windows from the inside.