Sunday night at dinner, with colleagues from Robin’s workshop, I gleaned a little more insight into the kippah code. A black yalmulke means ultra-religious. A knit yalmulke, on the other hand, can mean secular. It turns out that is the kind I ended up buying the other day.
Identity. Everyone wears one here. Boys with long payas curls. Ultra orthodox with fox fur hats on Shabbat. Arabs in black and white keffiyah. Franciscian monks in brown robes. Orthodox priests in black ones. A woman in an all white dress with a flared base and a turban looked like she was a Sufi, but she was a religious Jew from Brooklyn, in white for Shabbat. I have been in a fluid state about my own identity here in a big way. I can’t escape or deny the tradition I was born and raised in, but I have no Christian practice now in my life. I’m generally allergic to ritual of any kind with religious overtones. I prefer a private, non-demonstrative communion with God, preferably in the outdoors. But a few days ago I said the Shma at the Western Wall, again and again, until I felt a sense deep of connectness with the place. I put my palms on the wall and closed my eyes. I took within myself a core of calmness that lingered for days. From that point on, I had no trouble negotiating the crowded souks, and I even enjoyed the flow of energy passing all around me as I walked the streets.
Robin is watching me closely for signs of Jerusalem Syndrome. She thinks I’m thinking of converting, which is putting it way too strongly. I suspect I’ll still be allergic to too much ritual when I get home. Jews have a lot of ritual. Their services go on way too long. But I’m getting a contact high from all the religion in the air, and allowing myself to accept it as something I need in my life. But, as expressed in Jerusalem, it makes for a tense city that feels as though the place is on the verge of being upended at any moment. Everyone wears their identity in clear, unequivocal ways, as much to say who they aren’t as to say who they are.