I got a last-minute invite to a women's interfaith celebration of Christmas in Beit Hanina, just north of Jewish Jerusalem. You just pass by the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem and voila, you feel like you are in another country. Also Beit Hanina is one of the more wealthiest of Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods. We drove in a convoy of 4 cars - stopping at the French Hill intersection. A young Arab kid - perhaps around 9 or 10 - was selling silk flowers, and other assorted things one doesn't need. He pressed his face against our window looking really mournful.
"He must look at himself in the mirror each morning and practice to get that tragic look" - said our driver.
We gave the "tragic-looking" kid some change and drove off.
Mistakenly, we knocked on the downstairs apartment, but the young couple who answered greeted all of us as if we were expected. 25 unexpected guests.
Although I am not very active in the women's interfaith group - however, whenever I do meet up with them, it's really like getting together with a bunch of sisters. Alot of sisters - about 25 of them. We sat around the table eating all the goodies - it was a feast ending with my favorite dessert - kanafe - among other baklava-like treats. The Jewish women there were stuck though when Christmas carols were sung in Arabic. We can do the English versions but not the Arabic ones.
Before I went to this party, I had a chat with our new receptionist. She asked me -
"Doesn't it freak you out to hear Christmas Carols in Arabic?"
"It is kind of strange, but it also is kind of nice being able to celebrate our holidays together in our native languages." I told her of getting lost last year in Beit Hanina.
"Weren't you terrified?" she asked me.
I have long since given up the useless emotion of being terrified when in a neighborhood of "others" or being confronted by the Other.
I told her a story about when I was about 15 years old of being terribly frightened of African-Americans. I thought anyone black who came over to talk to me was either going to rob me or beat me. This is what is was like for me in the New York City of the early 1970s. I had some Jewish holy books on my lap. I was on the subway going to school. A young woman, a bit older than me, perhaps 18, sat next to me and began a conversation.
"Did you know that Moses was black??" On her lap was a book called "Black Moses". I was terrified of her, and felt my face redden. I thought she was going to beat me up for thinking that Moses was white, or at least somewhat white, being of Middle-East extraction. I just nodded at everything she said. When I think about it now, I think what a loss it was for me. If I hadn't been so terrified, and have been somewhat of the person I am today, I would have engaged her in a wonderful dialogue. How sad that fear got in the way....
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Posted by jerusalem gypsy at 12:52 PM