We were at the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest sites of Islam. I was standing with two others in our group, talking, when we were told that the area was closing, and we needed to leave. We were hustled toward a gate, while we protested that we needed to find the rest of our tour. Ahead of us was a group of Orthodox Jewish men. They had been behaving badly, and were being forced out. Tensions were high as we were being escorted out too. The Orthodox men started to sing a Hassidic song. They were loud and full of joy, but it felt like it was entirely generated from an ego space. It was an “in-your-face” expression of their own solidarity, and an expression of their own feelings of superiority.
The three of us worked our way around them, looking for the rest of our tour group. When it became clear they were no where in sight, we stopped. One of us started digging in her bag for the cell phone and list of phone numbers, to call our guide. Meanwhile, since we were standing at a street stall, I looked at the prayer beads that were on display. The stall owner told me some had 33 beads and some had 99 beads. I said, “for the 99 Names of Allah?” and he smiled and said yes. I told him that more holy people should buy the 33 bead string, but I would buy the one with 99 beads, since I had a lot more room for improvement. As he laughed and we concluded our transaction, the group of Orthodox men came down the street, continuing to sing.
When they passed us and turned the corner, and I watched them leave, I came back to the stall. I asked the man selling the beads, “are you Muslim?” and he replied, “of course”. I said to him, “I am Jewish. I can not apologize to all the Muslims here [we were in the heart of the Arab Quarter] for these men, but at least, I can apologize to you. I am so sorry you had to see and hear their disrespect.”
The man paused, then took my hand. He said: “look, there are five fingers here on your hand. Each finger is different, but they are all a part of your hand. We are like the fingers – we are all different, but we are part of the hand, children of Allah, of God. Some people are very busy being fingers; they forget that they are part of the hand.”
I then took his hand in mine, and I said, “You are a very wise man. It must come from being here in this holy city.” And then I saw, just behind him, our tour guide, Marla, who had come to lead us back to the group. So we said good-bye, and left.over 2 years ago