Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Big Fright

I had planned to go to Abed's wedding for a few months, and the time kept getting closer and closer. On Tuesday he called to officially invite me. On Friday, I found out that a close female friend of mine was invited too. I was thrilled because Abed had told me that this was going to be a very traditional Arab wedding. The men and women would be separate. I would not know anyone in the women's section and was happy to have a friend with me.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the look on my husband's face got drabber and drabber. We discussed this over dinner last night. He was adamant that I should not go. The wedding was going to be in Abu Dis, a Palestinian neighborhood east of Jerusalem, behind the big wall. He told me again over coffee with friends this morning. Our friends told me they'd be frightened to go too.

The fear is so great here of the other that everyone is afraid for their lives. It's unfair. But I can't go by the "talk" of others. Is it true that Arab neighborhoods are dangerous for Jews? Hubby was telling me horrific things that could happen to me over there...I was starting to feel nervous myself.

This is supposed to be a wedding celebration of a close peace associate of mine. I told my husband and children and friends that if it were so dangerous, he'd warn me to stay away because of tensions in the area. This is what had been done in the past when we were supposed to go to Bethlehem one year and there were tensions between our peoples. There are always tensions between our peoples - look at the tension in Acco. But this tension between peoples who more and more I feel are the same is, to me, artificial. It can be zapped away. It's not easy, but I know it can be done.

I was starting to get flutters in my stomach as the time got closer to the wedding because of my family's concerns. It was starting in a couple of hours.

Logistics. How do we get there? Is it safe for Israelis to take their car to Abu Dis? I wrote a few emails to Palestinian friends who live in the area, and my friend wrote some of her friends.

Yes, it's safe to take a car with Israeli license plates. It's Area B in our sectioned-off land which has A,B,C as its sections.

The Israeli man who came with us decided to leave his car in my neighborhood and we took a Palestinian car service recommended by a friend. He said he'll pick us up in 10 minutes. That's 20 minutes in Palestinian time.

We drove up and down a couple of hills until we got to Abu Dis, a large Palestinian university town. We were immediately greeted with smiles, and separated from our male colleague, shown to the women's section. Again. More smiles. We were greeted by Abed's relatives who had never met us before. We were led up to the dancing area by his mother to dance with her. My friend and I seemed to be the only Jewish women there. We noticed Abed's mother could pass for one of our aunts. She looked more Jewish than Arab, we thought, and imagined her cooking up a vat of kreplach soup.

Sitting with all these women, I wondered where does all this fear of the other come from? As different parts of the wedding ceremony were happening, the woman sitting next to me, who treated us like VIPs as soon as we walked in, gave me a running commentary in Arabic, which I understood only a few words. I picked up a couple of new Arabic words from her which I believed were - aris (bride) and aroos (groom). I was quite pleased with myself to have guessed what those words meant.

When the men came in, the women who weren't covered up to begin with, covered up their bare arms and hair. The men lined up to greet the groom and many gave him money. There were necklaces of dollar bills put around the groom and bride. Then the bride and groom cut the many tiered wedding cake with what looked like an antique ceremonial dagger.

My friend commented that this wasn't an Arabic cake. Yeah, it's more Jewish than Arabic, I told her. It was sponge cake with coconut frosting. Kiddush cake. Two wine glasses were filled with Coca Cola for the bride and groom to give a toast to each other.

It could have very well been a Jewish wedding in an ultra-orthodox wedding hall. They also have separate rooms for men and women for dancing.

And I wondered again, where the fear of the other comes from. Are our respective societies feeding each other lies about one another so that we can't become close?

And I thanked God for taking fear out of my heart and so being able to have an opportunity to see a traditional Arab wedding in a Palestinian village and to mingle and dance together with the women guests.

No comments: