This was my second trip to New Orleans. It’s a city of contrasts. Harrah’s and Tiffany’s, celebrity chefs, plethora of Jaguars on the streets. And then there are the neighborhoods still not revitalized post-Katrina and homeless people on Canal Street and in the French Quarter. What makes it like no other city in the United States is the mix of cultures, pride of place, and the willingness of those who love their home to laugh at themselves. Spending time in the Marigny listening to music and taking in the street scene is sublime, as is the friendliness of the locals. Don’t worry, this little bit of joyful travel guide will veer off soon into uh oh land.
We ate well and I happily drank martinis and more wine than I had in a long time. We visited museums and were treated by friends to a holiday home tour in the Garden District. Our hotel has a strange tradition of serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with hot chocolate every night at 10 pm. Le Pavilion is known for this little bit of silliness and guests come to the lobby in jammies and often with the early stages of world class hangovers.
After listening to some fine music, we wandered Frenchmen Street looking for cheap eats and discovered Mona’s, a middle-eastern restaurant that has several locations in New Orleans. The menu called and I didn’t pay attention to the guy sitting outside wearing a kaffiyeh who could have been Jordanian. I am wearing a mezuzah bought in the Old City a few years ago. We sit, we order some fine food, slurp our soft drinks and I look around. Oh, shit. On the wall is a photo of the Dome of the Rock in all of its golden glory. Just like the big one that always seems to be in back of some Hamas spokesperson when he is speechifying about the terrible Zionists.
As I was scooping up hummus with pita, I started to think about the global reach of the misinformation about the Temple Mount and Jerusalem in general. For most folks in the restaurant who are not Arab, the picture is just a photo of a landmark. For others, the photo is a call to action that strikes at the soul of someone my age, albeit an American, who remembers the emotions felt when Jerusalem was united in the 1967 war. Pure joy and pride. And whenever visiting, that sense of love is present. When the Mughrabi Gate was closed in late 2011 for structural reasons (?), I happened to be in Tsfat. By the time I got to Jerusalem, the gate was open and I was able to go to the Temple Mount during one of the short windows when non-Muslims were allowed. It was wonderful to be able to walk on that ground that is so much a part of who we are as Jews. The staring women, picnicking while the kids played, clearly meant to intimidate but didn’t.
So in the restaurant on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, I wondered about why not photos of Mecca or other sites holy to Islam? I wondered but I really knew why not. The core belief of our connection to this site has been written about, discussed, argued at length by people who know much more about this than I. The exorcising of Jewish history from this site, the rest of Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria is a united goal among many Arabs, even in New Orleans. Much wiser people have written about this on TOI, but the fact that we Jews cannot unify on this scares me. As I plan for my next trip to Israel in a month, I think about the fact that despite corruption and destruction, classism, and poverty, the people of New Orleans agree on one thing: that they belong there. We Jews regardless of how we express our faith and whether we are in the diaspora or among the gathered need to do the same.