It's mid-Passover. I have been hearing ludicrous things from all sides. Everything from "Obama is building concentration camps for Jews" to someone on an "health food" email list who thought a person should die for not wanting to buy organic eggs from a violent anti-Arab settler, to Hubby complaining that I'm the sole cause of our family's dysfunction. I had to get out of the house. I just HAD to get out. Anywhere.
That anywhere was Ramle. I saw a walking tour of what most people perceive to be one of Israel's pissholes and thought 'hey, this could be interesting' and signed up. We would explore the Christian, Moslem and Karaite Jewish communities of the city. Wow.
I took the bus into Ramle from Jerusalem, and taking holiday traffic into consideration, I left much earlier. I managed to find the train station that was our meeting point.
What a breath of fresh air. Even if it was Ramle. Ramle was founded by Moslems in the 7th century, taken over by the crusaders in the 11th century and then re-taken by the Moslem Mamelukes in the 12th century. Our first stop were Helena's Pools, a refurbished Crusader era water pool, which served as the city's water reserve. Now you can still see the arches and there are boats that glide through the waters for whatever tourist may happen to come by.
We went over to the ancient minaret from Mameluke times. This area used to be a giant mosque, and there were still ruins from the 7th century structure, although some of the structures could have been from later years. A Moslem cemetery straddles the mosque on both sides. The tour guide said that one of Mohammed's "priests" was buried there, although I'm not sure Moslems have priests.
I climbed up 110 stairs to the top. My feet are still aching from the steep climb.
view of Moslem cemetery
View from the top of minaret
Afterwards the guide took us to a place in the shade and proceeded to talk about Islam by telling us "Mohammad NEVER went to Jerusalem. Ever! And so what is this that Jerusalem is holy for them?" I knew from enough interfaith meetings that the Moslem prophet did indeed go to Jerusalem, and so I interrupted our guide. Me, a Jewish woman living over the green line, defending Islam. What a Passover holiday I'm having.
"Er, excuse me? But it is said in their tradition that Mohammed went to heaven from Jerusalem, from the Temple Mount."
"Ha! If you believe that, as much as you want to believe that Elijah went up to heaven in a fiery chariot, then fine. It said he went to Al Aksa, which means "the farthest place". It could be in Beijing for all we know."
OK. I wasn't going to spend the entire tour arguing with the "expert". So I let her guide, telling us at one of the last stops that if you say Allah Hu Akbar you automatically become a Moslem so "don't say it!!!!" she shouted at one of the people in our group. I smiled at the thought of Rabbi Froman who often stands up on stage with a great big Allah Hu Akbar - and know that he hadn't turned into a Moslem from saying God is Great in Arabic. I tried to tune out her political diatribes. This wasn't what I came here for. I could always read the papers for that or listen to my son-in-law. Is there no refuge for me during Passover?
Arab part of town
I went back to Jerusalem by train, thinking it will be a faster trip, because there is no holiday traffic on the rails. I was right - although the most scenic part of the trip, the hills around Jerusalem was already shrouded in darkness by the time we got there. And I met my two married kids in downtown Jerusalem and drowned my sorrows in a large cup of kosher-for-passover ice cream.