The Convergence

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Jerusalem, Israel – June 2010

The high afternoon sun shines in my eyes, but I take the shot anyway. We are taking a back way from the Mount of Olives into the Old City and probably won’t pass this way again. An imperfect photo is better than no photo at all. As we walk down the deserted path, my eyes are fixed on the Dome of the Rock. It shimmers. Anyone with a brain has taken refuge in the shadows. I pull my wide-brimmed hat lower. My eyeballs throb. Tonight there will be anguish instead of sleep.

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Even Omar, the Arab boy, has left us. He followed us from our hotel. He wanted to talk to my husband and my husband’s friend. He let me take a photo of him at the top of the Mount. When my husband’s friend tried to give him money, he frowned and shook his head. When we turned down this path, he waved and turned back. See you later, he said.

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We walk along the walls of the Old City, searching for an entry. I’m grateful for the shadow they provide. A knot forms at the base of my skull. The stabbing pain has spread from my eyes to my forehead and sinuses. My husband and his friend talk nonstop. They are unaffected by the sun and heat. I look over my shoulder at the Mount of Olives and then at the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the hill. Everywhere one looks is a holy place.

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After a long while, an opening appears. We slip inside. A short walk brings us to the Wailing Wall, but it is relatively silent, even here.

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It is livelier in the souk. As we meander our way through the narrow passages, men lurch out of the stalls or turn to follow us. I hold my husband’s arm. A couple of old men glare at me. They open their mouths and let forth a guttural hiss. It’s the same sound that I have the unfortunate habit of inciting in cats. I bite my lips to keep from laughing. It’s really not funny. I should have looked into the proper dress code for Jerusalem. By Tel Aviv standards, my clothes are very modest. My skirt is a couple of inches above my knees and I’m wearing a sleeveless top. Young men smack their lips and make comments to my husband. He grits his teeth. I tighten my grip on his arm. I don’t want him to have problems because of me. I duck into a stall and buy a scarf. I throw it around my shoulders. I tuck my hair under my hat. The harassment subsides a little.

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We sit for a long while in a sidewalk cafe. None of us speak. It is at a crossroads of the four quarters – Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish. Brown-robed Franciscan monks. Black-robed Russian Orthodox priests. Orthodox Jews in tall black hats and curls. Smiling nuns in various colors of habits. Israeli military men with rifles. Muslim women in black from head to toe. I can only manage to shake my head. It is trippy, this convergence. The Muslim women turn to look me straight in the eyes and smile. I relax into my chair and exhale. I, too, am welcome here.

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33 thoughts on “The Convergence

  1. You have the knack of bringing out the “nicest” reactions from men (and cats). 🙂
    The convergence sounds like an interesting place. No wonder you felt welcome there.

  2. The shots of the Old City walls and Wailing Wall are truly revealing – you hear/see so much in the news but never get the wider perspective. Without wishing to upset the cat fraternity, I have the opposite problem – they like me but I don’t like them (I resist hissing). Give me a daft, big dog any day 🙂

    • Uh oh. You might have just thrown down the gauntlet there. You’re on your own, my friend. After being attacked on more than one occasion, I am justifiably cautious around felines. They have to earn my trust. Large, slobbering dogs are great. However, I’ve always gravitated towards “strange” pets like big, intimidating rabbits.

  3. Your photographs are remarkable – as usual. And your new format adds to the drama. I always smile when I hear that a woman’s dress is the focus of attention.

    “Why are women… so much more interesting to men than men are to women?” Virginia Woolf

    As to convergence! We are indeed living in a world that is coming together and forming linkages and networks that have wonderful possibilities.

    • The convergence of Jerusalem is very intense and not necessarily peaceful. We were all on edge until we left. I didn’t put that in this post, but that’s the reality of it. Regarding the world coming together: there are great possibilities, but also great risks of losing individuality, personal freedom, and the right to privacy. It depends on those in power and the will of individuals working together to keep them in line.

      • Well said!! That is the inherent and frightening risk. Recently, I have been researching Dr. Gabor Mate and Karen Armstrong who are seeking a compassionate way of handling difficult and complex problems. They come from different perspectives. I think that you would find them interesting!!! (I hope you don’t mind me adding links – please delete if you feel that they are inappropriate.)

        http://drgabormate.com/

        • Of course you can post links. It’s an interesting concept and they may have good intentions, but the use of “global” makes me uneasy, as does their insistence on countries signing a “charter”. I don’t think it’s necessary to sign documents to spread compassion. It makes me think that there’s something else at work behind it.

          • I agree – the word “global” is unsettling. And there is also the risk of diminishing personal influence and participation. Compassion is too easily delegated to others. You would be interested to know that Karen Armstrong was a runaway nun – quite a story. Became a professor of literature. But this is why I brought her up in this particular post. It was when she came to Jerusalem, and felt the convergence that her whole life changed.

            I do enjoy our conversations!

  4. I think you expressed the tension in the convergence well. I can only imagine how difficult that situation is on a day-to-day basis. Shimon Z’Evi writes about Jerusalem, his home city, on his blog, The Human Picture, but any discussion of the politics of the place is noticeably absent from his detailed descriptions of his nearly eighty years there. (I’m guessing at his age.) That is, with the exception of his disdain for the Palestinians. This is a beautiful post. I enjoyed it very much, Riso.

  5. What a perfect post! You are a good photographer Julie, these photos evoke so much.
    My uncle and aunt went last year, my aunt wore pants and the same type of blouse every day, I hadn’t notice, but now that you mention it,maybe some places have dress codes.

    • Thanks, Doris. Muslim countries definitely have a dress code, and so do some others that I’ve visited. Some are more extreme than others. In Papua New Guinea, if you showed shoulders or knees, it was an excuse for men to attack you. The women bathe in the rivers fully clothed.

      In some Asian countries you need to cover shoulders and legs, too, but I think if you don’t you’ll just get some strange looks. Jerusalem is a city of religions, so I should have thought to dress as i would in church. I had thought only of the weather when I was packing.

  6. This post brought back a lot of memories of living in Kuwait. I know the tension of which you speak and it strikes me that it permeates a good deal of the Middle East and that many westerners in particular when assessing dynamics in the region tend to overlook a particular fact about the people of the region as a whole: that they are very passionate about their religion and their culture and don’t particularly attach the same value to accepting differences that we have come to espouse (but not necessarily live) in the West.

    Also, I know that hiss to which you are referring, I heard it issue from the lips of both men and women on various occasions as I struggled to navigate dress code and the simple fact of being a western woman; it is not a pleasant sound.

    • Hi Viv,

      I bet that living in Kuwait was an experience. After hearing that hiss from the men, I’d expected to be treated with the same (if not worse) hostility from the women, so I was really surprised that they seemed to want to show me that they were tolerant. They made a point to take the time to smile at me. But, as you know, all countries are different. I would not expect this in other countries in the region.

  7. i just love these words and the image of the souk!Like you said, dress code in some country are really strict for women. I will surely feeling uneasy living in some of these places.

  8. Beautiful as always. I’ve always dreamed of going to see this magical place where people of different religions can live peacefully. But until I make my own way there, thanks for sharing your beautiful shots

  9. Thanks for this lovely post and the photos. I am off to Jerusalem this year and your post gave me a little taste of what to expect. As my hotel will be on the Mount of Olives I will be taking that walk in the hot sun that you melted on. Ralph xox 😀

    • Hi Ralph – We stayed at the Mount of Olives hotel and though it was spartan, it was clean and the staff was lovely. Hope you have a wonderful time and I look forward to reading about your adventures. –Julie

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