Ramallah, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Woke up early and had a certain energy – I really think that Jerusalem, Shabbat and being with this diverse group gave me this high to connect with those around me and basically spread Jewish and Zionist love. 


We hopped in the bus, and it took us about twenty minutes in rush hour traffic  to get to the outskirts of Ramallah and transfer through the Qalandia checkpoint – though there was a lot of traffic around that checkpoint, in both directions.


Ramallah is a prosperous and booming!  There are incredible high rises going up when you come in – dozens of new buildings. It is a very pretty city, chariming – very different than Amman which was not uplifting or inspiring.  Here there are hills and vistas, old and new buildings. Built on hills like Jerusalem, but in some ways has even better green space with trees in between low rises and houses. 


The northern outskirts of Ramallah, where we were going, driving through Bir Zeit, are really beautiful – hills, apartment buildings, olive groves, sweeping roads.    Beautiful neighborhoods nestled in the Judean Hills.  The housing is old fashioned – some of it Ottoman, no doubt – and even the new apartment buildings work with the surrounding scenery.  Unfortunately, there is garbage all over, so it is certainly not pristine, but it is pleasant and uplifting to drive around.


Occasionally we see Palestinian police in smart blue and bright green uniforms and blue cars.  We pass Abu Gash another charming Arab town nestled on a hilltop till we get to our first destination, Jiffna, which is in the valley, with horses roaming in green fields – really a bucolic, countryside feel, relaxed – frozen in time almost.  Reminded me of Oxfordshire or Yorkshire, especially with a gentle fog that was descending in the morning.


My iPhone reads as its carrier: Jawwal Palestine… We are not in Jerusalme… A bit eerie, also strange to have BZU – Beir Zeit University – on my list of wifi networks. But it’s locked…


We went to a Catholic church for Sunday prayers, and because I don’t go into church sanctuaries, I stood in the back, near the door, under the entranceway.  So I became kind of the “rabbi greeter” to everyone coming late through the back door…  There aren’t many Christians anymore – a few percentage of the Arab population in this area, even though Ramalla was originally a Christian city.  It is a big issue that honest Palestinians recognize – why have all the Christians left?  They of course to not say it is because they have been intimidated…


It was a typical Arabic Sunday morning service. The Priest, certainly knowing we were visiting on a piece mission said: “We can all live together…”  I was told later that it was a classic Catholic service, just in the vernacular – Arabic.


I saw a kid with a sippy cup, like shul…


There was a small, charming choir, and the acoustics and singing were great.  Then the spice came – I was sneezing already from the intense “shuk like” spicy smell. I think because it was not the smells I usually enjoy and the fact that I was coughing,  sneezing and my eyes were tearing helped with any questions of getting “hana’ah – pleasure” from a foreign religion. But the music was beautiful – with the organ and the mostly woman choir – led by a man and a male organ master. 


The traditional greeting which comes towards the end of a Christian services was – of course – in Arabic – Asalam aleikum.


Beethoven’s 9th was the tune for a hymn in Arabic – but I don’t know what the words were. Very powerful music – I aways tear up for it – even though I don’t know the meaning of the words in German or Arabic. 


Service ended with announcements – like shul!  And kiddush  after services – and them a responsive prayer – something like “let us pray”- and then a somber song – not a crazy Adon olam with kids on the bima…. I do miss home!


Everyone very extremely friendly and warm – men, women and even teens. That’s really the most pronounced part of this 24 stay in Ramallah – people are friendly and responsive.  I did not see them staring at my kippah at all, nor did I feel uncomfortable.  We all know that terrorist who have killed our brothers and sisters – and our Jewish children! – have come from these kind of places.  But it was easy to connect with all the people we met.  Kiddush was kiddush – with small cups of coffee and a bachlava which I didn’t eat – and people were happy to talk and smile and be polite and welcoming.


Everyone, even when telling their stories against the Israeli oppression, was very good natured. A man who married woman from Gaza and had trouble getting her into Ramallah spoke at length, telling his story – which ended with her finally getting permission for her and her brother to come to West Bank. 


“Security is the main issue, but…” talked of land confiscation and the fence. 


A lot of talk of not being able to travel to Jerusalem, or leave Bethlehem. The assistant priest talked about Good Friday last year when Passover, Easter,  and Eastern Easter all fell on same day. Muslims Salafies yelled and cursed the Christians. The Israeli security guard pushed the Patriarch – but the message was that the Patriarch said in both cases: we are not here to fight; we are here to pray. The lesson was that the Christians want to be a “Bridge for peace between Jews and Muslims”. 


Everyone at this church could not have been friendlier.Even the Kids and teenagers! It was like a monument to peace – like a Hollywood facade. But I think in many ways it is genuine – not to say that there aren’t crucial security concerns that our State of Israel has to contend with. 


We headed back south to Ramallah and the ride was beautiful – Beir Zeit, just north of Ramallah, is like the Tayelet – sharp slope of trees. Stunning scenery.  We passed the many coffee shop chain: Star and Bucks Coffee!!  Green logo and everything…


Next stop: PLO Headquarters and Hanan Ashrawi.  


Forgive me, but it’s time to daven and head back to Jerusalem, so I will update the rest of my Ramallah day – and an incredible encounter with Prime Minister Fayyad who is just off the charts, amazing, humble, brilliant, honest man – in the next status update as soon as possible.


Until then,


Shalom al Yisrael


3 Responses to Ramallah, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

  1. Dr. Peter Geidel says:

    I wish there could be many more journeys that promote peace, with many more people of all faiths.
    I thought I would offer something of a translation of part of the poem you refer to, Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” first published in 1786. The revised part of the text that Beethoven set to the now familiar tune is flowery (the first part deals with Joy, “daughter of Elysium”), but the second stanza has captured the hearts of many freedom-loving peoples:

    Your magic binds together
    What stern custom has divided;
    All men shall be brothers
    Where your gentle wings abide.

  2. maryles1 says:

    This is a beautiful series of posts, genuinely moving and full of hope. Can’t wait for the next one.

  3. Mr. Cohen says:

    Rabbi Asher Lopatin said:
    “…I don’t go into church sanctuaries…”

    I am happy to hear that there are still Jews who comply with the prohibition against entering churches! This should be taught more often.

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