Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Old City and the Kotel

On Sunday, Morgan spent most of the day recovering from her accidental seafood exposure. I went to the Old City to see if I could figure out how to get to the Kotel. The Old City is crowded and tightly packed. Streets are often shared between vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The narrow sidewalks are often choked by tour groups and the vendors hawking their wares are often agressive. I decided to buy Morgan a pomegranate since electrolytes are always a good thing. The vendor showed me a lovely view from a roof top and introduced me to his brother who succeded in selling me a 80NIS mezuzah case for 150NIS. When he tried to sell me a 150NIS Magen David for 900NIS we had an argument in Hebrew about whether God did or did not want me to spend 900NIS on a Magen David from a Bedouin in the old city. When I left his shop the price came down to 200NIS, but he had already swindled me on the Mezuzah Case, had just shown me the depth of the swindle he tried to pull on the Magen David, and I was not kindly disposed. I left the Old city then, rebuffing an offer to be shown David's tomb (in a place within the Old City, though it is in fact outside the walls) and a come-on from a self-proclaimed purveyor of "schmattes and chazerai" near the Jaffa gate.

Why all the attention? Perhaps because of my mannter of dress. At the time I looked rather like the image on the left. I clould be seen coming from a mile away and everything from the shirt to the shorts to the uncovered hair says: "American Idiot on Vacation." So later that evening, as a small experiment I donned a pair of black Chinos, a white cargo shirt, a black corduroy jacket, and a canoeing hat to create a mode of dress that I call faux-frum. No one spoke to me. I looked frum to the hawkers, and I looked, I will assume, strange to the chabadniks and charedim. And in this garb, with a copy of Chaim Stern's Paths of Faith tucked underneath my arm, I headed out for the Kotel.

To get to the Kotel from the Jaffa gate, one takes the Armenian Patriarchate road through the Armenian Quarter, and then makes a hard right into a parking lot. Follow that until you see a sign that says "No Traffic on Shabbat or Holidays." and follow that road down hill until you reach a switcback with a pretzel stand. Robinson's Arch is directly across from the switchback. If you actually reach the pretzel stand, then the Kotel is behind you. This is a view of the Kotel from the Plaza:
Women are to the left, men are to the right. The privacy fence serves as the mechitza. The wooden items stacked near the mechitza on the men's side are shtenders, basically portable reading stands. I entered the Men's side and located a good spot to deliver the note I had been asked to deposit there and davened. That deserves its own post.

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