The wonderful thing about world travel is how it can open your eyes to how, despite the differences that make this world so troubled, there are some things that unite much of personkind.
I recently enjoyed one of those wonderful moments during my first day in Jerusalem on my first trip to Israel. It came in the back seat of a cab as we headed back to our hotel after touring the building that houses the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
The tour was great, as was our tour guide. She told us about how the parliament works and how diverse it is and how democratic Israel is and how transparent the Knesset is, with everything open to the public and a photo board that shows which Members of the Knesset, or MKs, are in the building.
It’s a useful tool for enforcing the rule that MKs have to show up for two-thirds of the sessions or face a fine and potential political disgrace. The board — photos of MKs show up in color when they’re in the building and black and white when they’re not — is a great tool. Though it really only tells you where the legislators aren’t, not where they are.
So we left the building impressed with the tour guide’s view of how Israeli government works. We then got another local’s view of how Israeli government works.
Aware of where we had just been, our Romanian-born cabbie, who’s been in Israel since 1964, asked us this: “You been to the zoo?”
That’s what he said folks he knows calls the 120-member body that makes the laws for this pivotal nation.
He also seemed unimpressed with the leader of his nation who, he said, in so many words, talks a better game than he plays. “The monkey” is what he called that leader.
One in our tour party told the cab driver that our nation now has a leader who hasn’t impressed everyone.
But here in Israel, lots of folks are impressed with our leader.
“Trump make Israel great,” says a sign near our hotel. Turns out it, and others with similar Trump-friendly messages it, are posted by the Friends of Zion Museum.
An oversized facsimile of Trump’s signature has a place of honor in Jerusalem’s famed King David Hotel. It’s the centerpiece in a walkway of signatures on the floor that shows an eclectic mix of past visitors, including Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, rock band Metallica and former “Baywatch” actress Pamela Anderson.
Trump’s autograph is between those of musician Neil Young and performer Danny Kaye.
I’m on a two-week tour of Israel, a first visit to this amazing nation for this Texas Jew. Friends who’ve told me of their visits are correct. This is a fascinating crossroads of cultures that somehow live in prolonged periods of relatively peaceful coexitsence between periods of horrific bloodshed.
For me, it’s an odd experience being a member of the dominant religion. It’s small things over here that catch my attention, like not having to try to figure out if any dishes in a buffet line might include pork.
And there are big things, like the Western Wall on a Friday night, as the locals — zealously and with a physical energy not present in my Austin synagogue — welcome in Shabbat. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, a combination of deep religious experience, mosh pit and calorie-burning religious fervor: Jewzercise.
It’s also a reminder of the diversity of belief and customs within my relatively small religion.
At the Western Wall on a Friday night, each sect gathers and celebrates its version of Judaism. The garb delineates the groups. One sect wears amazing high furry hats that make the best and biggest cowboy hat you’ve ever seen look like bupkis.
I’m not of that sect. But I want the hat, which I’m told can cost thousands of dollars.
The Jewish, Armenian, Arab and Christian quarters in the Old City are a warren of markets offering religious wares, tacky souvenirs, local foods and goods.
And University of Alabama regalia. This is thanks to Hani Imam, a former Bama student who’s had the “Alabama-The Heart of Dixie” store on David Street for 17 years. His brother Dia Abdeen was manning the store when I dropped by. He’s been to Tuscaloosa once to visit.
I asked him what’s the difference between Jerusalem and Tuscaloosa. “The difference?” he said. “This is the Holy Land.”
I opted not to raise the possibility that some Sabanites think Bama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium is a holy land on an autumn Saturday and that Coach Nick Saban (whose autographed photo: “To Hani, Roll Tide” adorns the entry way) is a major deity.
Check out my video of the store at mystatesman.com.
Though I’ve been trying to steer clear of political talk on the trip, I couldn’t resist some when we stopped on a scenic overlook from where, in the distance, we could see the security wall Israel erected to control flow into Jerusalem.
Our tour guide acknowledged that this particular wall is very effective. That’s as far as I took the conversation about walls and borders.
For all the wonders of this wondrous place, the most moving moments of all inevitably came at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, which offers forgotten-at-our-own-peril lessons about what some unspeakably horrible people did and what some good people didn’t do soon enough.
See video with this column at mystatesman.com