Saturday, February 06, 2010

An evening with the ADL

I went to an ADL-sponsored dinner the other evening.  About 40 visitors from Connecticut were here from that organization - the majority of them clergy people.  This dinner was held at the Begin Center in a restaurant called Teresa.  I think the abundance of food shocked the Americans. There must have been an assortment of at least 10 salads, and then ravioli was passed around.  We had thought that was it for the main course, until we saw two large plates of Drumfish (unfamiliar to the Americans) and salmon come around, as well as wonderful cakes and coffee at the end.

We sat at four tables of about 10 people and  two people from our respective interfaith groups sat at each table to get to know the guests.  I sat with an Armenian woman from the Old City in Jerusalem.  I had met her once before, but we only knew each other vaguely.  She was talking about how the Christians are leaving the country, since there are no opportunities for them, and they are finding work overseas.  Also, they have been feeling tormented by the Ultra-Orthodox Jews passing by in the neighborhood, on their way to the Jewish quarter, who don't find fault with spitting on their priests, especially with those carrying large crosses.  The spitting is getting worse - done by the old and young - and the young Ultra-Orthodox Jewish kids, my new friend says, never sleep.  They study in yeshivot during the day and are up all night walking around, shouting through the gates of the Armenians' homes. The Armenian residents can't sleep.

"It used to be good with the Jews years ago" she confided.  We used to help each other and we used to turn on their heat and lights on the Sabbath for them.  These Jews are a different kind now.  It's getting worse.  When the tourists come in the summer, they walk into our shop  -  I once saw a boy who was very thirsty.  He went to take a bottle of water in the fridge and his mother said 'not from here!  We're not far from the Jewish quarter. And the son was complaining to the mother that he was so very thirsty, but she wouldn't let him buy from us.  Why?  What did we do to them?"  She looked at me, her eyes filled with hurt and pain.

I thought that perhaps one day our interfaith organization should have a vigil by their homes/churches so that if we see spitting and curses flying, we can confront the perpetrators.  But because it seems like a tough thing to organize for the moment, the woman resigned herself to inviting me over for coffee in her home - which I hope to do in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, we laughed over the fact that what I had thought was authentic Armenian pottery was just local pottery from Hebron.

"They say their name is Mike, but it's probably Mohammed."  she said of many of the store owners on the Christian Quarter road - and laughed.

"So you'll take me to the Armenian places? And we could go out for coffee and knafe?" I asked.

Certainly.  Her family came to live in Jerusalem after the Turkish massacre of Armenians in the early 20th century.  She knows the neighborhood really well.

There was a Pakistani-American woman there.  She had been living in the US now for 20 years and considered it her home.  But the events of 911 and suspicions over her heritage and extra precautions taken with her at airports and other places because of her Moslem name, have saddened her.  She turned to the ADL.  I talked to her later, telling her about my knowledge of the "lost 10 tribes of Israel" and that it is assumed that the Pathan tribes are descendants of these lost tribes.

"I'm an Afridi."  she told me.  "My name is Afridi!"

It was like I found a long-lost sister. 

"WOW!! You're from the tribe of Ephraim?!! "  I hugged her.  It's not everyday that you find a long lost tribal sister.

She told me "But the Rabbani tribe are the most extreme of the Taliban."  They're considered to be descendants of the tribe of Reuben.

"Jeez.  Why?  What were they thinking?" I said to her. 

My attention switched to the people conversing on the other side of my table.  Seems a young and charismatic modern-Orthodox Jewish rabbi  was learning the language of the African American woman sitting across from him.  I had no clue what they were saying.

"You just presented" she told him.  "I'm gonna tell everybody that you presented in Jerusalem"

There was so much laughter.  I had no idea what was so funny about the word "presented".  They continued on.

"You've just been served.  You've been housed.  You have to give it right back."

I have to admit.  I'm totally lost.  When I go back to the US for a visit, I do hope there is a school for learning this new, unfamiliar language.


Rabbi Lars Shalom said...

armenia is highest!!

Barnea Levi Selavan said...

As a resident of the old city, tour guide, and with other hats, I am deeply concerned about the sensitivities of the Armenians. Please put me in touch with some people and I can help with tour guides visiting and with local neighborly relations.

jerusalemgypsy said...

Barnea, I am really happy to hear this from you. I would love to arrange a meeting with you and some of the Armenian residents because the situation seems to be getting out of hand. You can reach me at and we'll take it from there.