Memories from Good Friday 2021
Shaya and Tova were coming to us for Shabbat, and Shaya was very excited about visiting the Old City on Friday. Not just any Old City, but Jerusalem’s Old City, and not just any Friday, but Good Friday.
Rachel and I are always up for a little Catholic or Eastern Orthodox action. We’ve been to Christmas midnight mass (thankfully, held at 9 P.M.) at the Hebrew-speaking Catholic church in Jerusalem. Multi-faith winter singalong at the YMCA? Count us in. We’ve taken so many tourists on walking tours of the Via Dolorosa/Stations of the Cross that we’ve gotten over the spoiler at the 3rd station, “Jesus Falls for the First Time.” We’ve gone deeper into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher than we meant to, and beat a hasty retreat. Still, the Old City, Covid… we didn’t know what to expect.
I made an executive decision – we’d start near the end of the procession at Jaffa gate, not at the beginning near Lions’ gate. We marched toward the Arab shuk and were immediately stopped by a police barricade. No worries – we took a quick left into the Christian quarter, and somehow got as far as Station 7, “Jesus Falls for the Second Time,” where we were met by another police barricade.
No matter, onward non-Christian soldiers! We dashed down to the 4th station (Jesus Meets His Mother), caught a glimpse of the procession and heard a little singing from a distance, then sprinted toward the 3rd (Station of the Spoiler), then back up to the 7th, where it was too early to see the procession and a crowd had already gathered behind the inevitable barricade.
And what a crowd! Four tourists (me, Rachel, Shaya, Tova), a few local shoppers, and a bunch of men who were on their way to Al Aqsa for the 1 P.M. service. The latter were less than happy about being delayed – by Jesus no less! I asked the fella next to me, who explained that Al Aqsa had room for about 2000 guys (no idea about the women, I assume they get the same crap treatment as they do at the Kotel), so you had to get there early to get inside.
A festive mood prevailed, as we all were stuck there together. Well, let’s say it was festive seasoned with annoyance and just a hint of anger. All were enchanted by the responsive chants of Allahu Akbar, led by whoever was most annoyed/angry. Meanwhile, more and more people crammed in behind us. It’s important to remember that this was well before the Meron Massacre.
We knew that eventually, the barricades would come down, and at best, a powerful surge would ensue, bearing us all the way to Al Aqsa, so we took refuge in the nearby sneaker shop. It was clean, brightly-lit, and empty but for the young salesman, who motioned us and the two Arab women who also sought refuge toward the line of chairs.
Soon, the owner walked in. It wasn’t long before we were all chatting away about Covid, coexistence, people are people, etc. If you live in Jerusalem and don’t have a conversation about coexistence at least once a week, you’re doing something wrong, or you’re not taking enough taxis.
The owner is part of a hamula that has 22 shops in the shuk. He himself has three. Rent is $10,000/year to the true owners of Jerusalem, the Greek Orthodox church. Eventually, out came the sweet tea with sage, and we all enjoyed the Abrahamic ambience. Soon enough, the Christian procession had passed, the barricades were removed, and my people were let go.
A word about Rachel – she’s a heavy tipper, a generous soul. She said to me, “You have to buy shoes here. He’s hardly had any business all year.” I told her that she should pick out the ones she liked best. She came back with a couple of choices, and told me that the owner admitted that they were all knock-offs. Just as well, it was super obvious.
Thus, Jesus led me to one of the best Jerusalem experiences I’ve ever had, and the absolutely worst sneakers I’ve ever owned. Now I understand why he kept falling.