Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Ministering Angels, or "Sticking It" To The President

(Note: This is the first part of a larger article, which, because of its length, I have decided to split in half. The second part will be ready shortly,… I hope!)
“Then the Ofanim and the Holy Chayot tumultuously lift themselves up towards the Seraphim…” from the weekday morning (Shacharit) prayers

When I first became interested in Jewish observance, one of the things that troubled me – as it has many others – was the references to these “ministering angels,” which I had never encountered, as well as descriptions of time that seemed to vary wildly from the way time worked in the world I knew. There are, of course, many different explanations, ranging from the simple to the more subtle. I now take it for granted that the universe which G-d created is more complicated than what I can perceive: time works differently in different places, and there are dimensions, and parallel universes that exist even though I cannot see them. Of course, even in the dimensions that I can see, people can be standing next to each other and yet seem to worlds apart.
Here’s a surreal example of what I mean: It was Tuesday, January 8, 2008, the day before American President George W. Bush was scheduled to arrive in Israel as part of his effort to “negotiate” a “peace treaty” between Israel and “The Palestinians.” (Three sets of quotation marks in one sentence; not bad!) For the first time this season, it was actually cold, damp, and dreary in Jerusalem – something like a raw November day in New York City. I had a few hours to spare between the end of my ulpan class at 12:30 and 2:30, when I wanted to be at the Yaffa Gate for the first of two planned demonstrations against the Bush-Olmert-Abbas efforts to divide Jerusalem, truncate Israel, and form a “Palestinian” state. (I should mention that Barbara was heading back to Maale Adumim to deal with a home inspection for an apartment we are considering buying, a few blocks from where we are living now.) So of course I went looking for somewhere where I could sit indoors and have lunch and, just maybe, review some Hebrew. Every place we normally go to was packed to the gills; nobody was eating outside, and everyone was huddled inside. After wandering around for close to an hour, I walked into an attractive place called Arcaffe on Hillel St. After placing my order, I went to use “the facilities.” As I was washing my hands, suddenly a pair of hands – women’s hands – appeared through the wall, and started using the second wash basin. I could not believe what I was seeing: there was indeed a pair of women’s hands opening and closing the water faucet. Where was the rest of her, and how were her hands coming through the wall? I finally figured out the simple, perfectly natural explanation for what had happened: while there were two separate, adjacent men’s and women’s rooms, there was one washing facility: there were two sinks placed on a ledge, accessible from either side of a wall, with an opening in that wall about eighteen inches high, allowing men and women on opposite sides to access the sinks, so you could see the hands, but not the rest of the other co-washer (if that’s a word.) But I’m sure this seeming apparition took several weeks off my life.

After finishing a bowl of delicious minestrone soup, some bread, and a cup of coffee, I headed over to Shaar Yaffo to join the demonstration sponsored by an organization called OneJerusalem, whose name says it all. The idea was to have people encircle the four kilometers long walls of Jerusalem’s Old City with linked banners as a sign of support for the continued unity of “Ir Atika,” and by extension, all of Jerusalem. Most of the demonstrators, thousands in fact, seemed to be teenagers from B’nei Akiva, the religious Zionist youth organization, and consider that fact alone: there are now so many B’nei Akivaniks that they alone can encircle the Old City. Placing myself strategically near the Yaffo Gate (inside of which are conveniently located “facilities”; we were going to be there for a while, and it was cold out), I placed my newly-washed right forefinger under the string of a banner and lifted it, so that I would be part of this human chain, and I stood there -- with forefinger extended -- for close to two hours. What an easy way to “stick it” to a whole bunch of people whose plan is having control of our Holy City and our holy places in the hands of parallel but mutually exclusive entities. I watched as the line of people continued to grow, until I could no longer see the end of the human chain which snaked around these winding walls constructed by the Ottoman emperor Suleiman around the year 1537. What I could see over my right shoulder was the rear of the King David Hotel, still the most prestigious hotel in the city, where in one day, George W. Bush and a huge entourage would be occupying all 237 rooms, tying up the entire city, and giving rise to a flurry of political advertisements in the local English press and a series of demonstrations.
At the appropriate time, I was able to withdraw my hard working finger, walk over to the next portal, the Zion Gate, for a brief rally. At this point, I located the contingent from Maale Adumim which had come by bus to the first demonstration. We now headed down to Har Homa for the second one, this time organized by a motley collection of groups I had never heard of, with names like (I’m making this one up) “Har Homa, Now and Forever.” In fact, Har Homa is a small neighborhood, the most southerly part of Jerusalem, but clearly linked to the rest of the city by major thoroughfares. Thousands of people live there now, and there are homes for thousands more already in various stages of construction. Why this area should be of any concern to the American Secretary of State is beyond my comprehension.
What I did understand was that I was getting tired, hungry (we were promised some food, but none materialized), and damp (we were standing in a muddy construction zone, and you can imagine how much we enjoy standing in the mud in our sneakers.) I was getting bored listening to a series of repetitive speeches (in Hebrew), and I was getting very cranky because my only means of escape was the bus, which would not leave until the rally was over. I have this belief that there is a diminishing return in having a series of speakers repeating the same idea over and over again. To be fair, the organizers of this rally were not planning to limit their activity to verbal protestations. On this muddy field were three trucks filled with building supplies (provided by supporters faraway) with four more trucks in another undisclosed site. The more zealous protesters were planning, after the rally, in the dark, in the rain, in the mud, to go off and build some form of “outposts” in locations unauthorized by the Israeli government, and certainly not marked on “The Road Map” of the Bush-Rice entourage. (At this point, each of you reading this article is entitled to indicate your opinion as to the value of this enterprise, from [1] stupid, counter-productive to [10] the highest form of devotion to our Torah and our Land. It’s a secret ballot.) I personally chose to get back on the bus, go home, eat dinner, take a hot shower, and go to bed. I had done enough “sticking it” to whomever for the day.
The end of part 1

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