Jaffa might be best known for the story of Jonah but this ancient seaside city possesses a striking backdrop for the modern story of how Jews and Arabs live together.
On this special two and a half hour walking tour participants weave through the ancient and modern city beginning with Jaffa’s connection to the mythical story of Andromeda as well as the story of Jonah.
Guided by both a Jewish and Muslim guide specialists participants enjoy two different perspectives on modern life in this very ancient of cities. Our Moslem guide, Ehab, led us on the first half of the tour, providing his personal insight on Jaffa’s large Moslem population which has had a presence in Jaffa for hundreds of years. We learned a bit about life under Ottoman rule as well as Ottoman architecture which remains quite prevalent today. The most fascinating aspect of the tour was the visit to one Jaffa’s most prominent mosques situated off a small alleyway near the ancient walls to the Old City. We entered through a huge door into an extraordinary landscaped compound surrounding a beautiful courtyard designed with archways and stone excavated from a quarry near Jerusalem.
After removing our shoes we entered the large prayer room constructed with an ornate domed ceiling containing handpainted designs with beautiful detail. Each corner of the room portrays various colorful motifs symbolic of many of Islam’s prophets, several of whom are Old Testament figures of importance to Judaism and Christianity.
Our guide educated us as to some of the traditions and beliefs related to prayer and the Koran. He also provided an insightful overview of Moslem culture in Jaffa and the different mosques in Jaffa (there are a total of eight – fiver of which are moderate, dialogue seeking and focused on co-existence while three are more extreme.) He explained how every Iman is free to preach as he wishes as opposed to in Saudi Arabia where the government tells the clergy what they must preach.
After a 20 minute question and answer session the tour continued with a Jewish guide who led us to the new deck overlooking the sea and Tel Aviv then back through the alleys with a quick stop at the famed family owned Abulafiya bakery (recently opened in England) to taste this famous family’s renowned ‘bagela’.
We later toured the artists colony and its unique hanging orange pit and tree and continued through the old city past the archaeological site over to the lookout point over the old City. Throughtout this part of the tour we learn about the evolution of the new city – both Tel Aviv and Jaffa and we also saw remains from the numerous civilizations that lived in Jaffa before. The program concluded with a visit to the Church of St. Peter, one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Christians.
The tour is substantial in its content and depth and allows participants ample opportunity to learn about the different cultures and provides them a vision of Jaffa through a much wider lens. What’s very unique is the fact that you see and feel the diversity of people and the extraordinary beauty that this diversity brings to such a historical and densely populated area. People walk away awed by the beauty, and appreciation of the people and the city.
For those interested in learning more about the Israeli Arab narrative and afternoon in Wadi Ar’a is a must. Our most recent delicious home hospitality visit at the home of Amna in Kfar Qara offered a very engaging opportunity to learn about the the life and role of tradition Arab Moslem women in society.
Amna was introduced to us through the Wadi Ara’sa “Marvad Yarok” initiative, a non-profit organization established in 2007. The project is a joint venture of Arabs and Jews, volunteers and local tours entrepreneurs that joined together to promote local tourism to build trust and dialogue between cultures.
On this particular tour, we traveled to the home in of Amna in Kfar Ka’raa. Amna is the head of an AMUTA called “lmanech l’moda’ot” – which seeks to empower Arab women in the Wadi Ara area by teaching them how to enhance their economic livelihood by utilizing their domestic skills and hosting tourist groups.
An extraordinary story teller, Amna talked about her upbringing in a traditional Moslem household as the only daughter in a household of boys. She discussed in detail how she was expected to focus on the home and the associated duties and traditions that are typical of a traditional Moslem family including an appropriate home arranged marriage. Amna, however, is an extremely independent thinker and ultimately found herself drawn outside her village where she would eventually engage with similarly independent Israeli Jewish women and ultimately become involved in coexistence work. She became active in a non profit association focused on peacebuilding. The Knesset named her one of the top 10 most influential women in the country.
Ramadan, is the name of the ninth month of the Muslim calendar year and in that month Muslims around the world practice the fourth pillar of Islam which is the “Sawm” of the Fast of Ramadan.
As Muslims keep the lunar calendar, the Ramadan month travels through the secular calendar, coming ten or eleven days earlier each year. This means that when Ramadan falls during the winter months the fast is fairly easy, however, in the summer months the fast is quite strenuous due to the long hot days.
Ramadan is a very special time for Muslims as it was during Ramadan that Allah chose to call Mohamad (pbuh) to be a Prophet and sent the first revelations of the Qur’an. That’s why Ramadan is considered a time of spiritual and physical discipline and for making extra effort to spread love, peace and reconciliation.
The Ramadan Fast involves giving up all food, liquid, smoke and sexual intercourse during the hours of daylight for the entire month along with the peaceful and prayerful attitude of mind, however all these things are allowed after sunset, until the first light of the next day’s dawn.
Although fasting makes people feel very tired and weak, food is prepared very carefully during Ramadan, a difficult task for those preparing the food as they have to resist the temptation of eating or tasting the food, if this is done it will not be counted as breaking the fast as long as it wasn’t deliberate. As the time of breaking the fast called “Iftar” (also known as breakfast) draws near, people feel excited, hungry and proud of their achievement. They wait for the call to end the fast that comes from the minaret which is broadcast on TV and radio. As soon as the sun sets, the fast is broken with a sweet drink such as apricot juice and some fruit, often dates because this was the habit of the Prophet. The main meal will be served after the evening Maghrib prayer is said. This can be an elaborate feast as friends and relatives are often invited.
Most Muslims read the entire Qur’an during this month, and many men go to the mosque each night for prayers known as “Tarawih” during which the whole text is read through often by special “huffaz” (people who know the Qur’an by heart) to lead these special prayers.
People who would undergo real suffering by a fast are excused from the fast, this applies to people who need to be nourished, such as small children and old people, and expectant and nursing mothers. People whose condition would be made worse by fasting are also excused, such as menstruating women, soldiers in battles, people travelling on long trips, and the mentally ill. All these people should however make up for the fasts they have missed any possible other time throughout the year or if not possible then they should donate the cost of two meals to the poor for each missed fast-day.
Some Muslims go into retreat for the last ten days of Ramadan, this is called “I’tikaf”. They withdraw altogether from ordinary life and devote their entire time to prayer and reading the Qu’ran.
Traditionally, the night of the Descent of the Qu’ran is celebrated on the 27th day of the month of Ramadan, this is called “Laylat al-Qadr”. Many Muslims spend this entire night in the mosque, reading the Qur’an and praying together with the belief that if they spend the whole night in prayer and meditation, they will be granted the blessings as if the had prayed for a thousand nights.
Ramadan is a time of joy and Muslims look forward to it as a time of great joy, family celebrations, entertaining of guests and reconciliation. It is normal during this month to stay up very late at night and get up early for the “Suhur” or the pre-dawn meal in preparation for another long day of fasting. Traditionally, a drummer called the “Musaharati” still roams the streets drumming and waking people up for prayer and this early morning snack, in some cities this call is still made by a cannon being fired.
One can feel this beautiful and celebratory atmosphere as the street, shops and homes are all decorated with colorful lights that come into effect at sunset when the fast is broken. Special meals and sweets can only be seen and bought during this month. A time of joy that will peak with the “Eid el-Fitr” or the feast celebrating the end of Ramadan and end of the Ramadan fast.
Wishing our Muslim friends and colleagues a blessed fast and Ramadan Kareem!!
If you go:
Should you be in Jerusalem during Ramadan you can get a sense of the holiday by visiting East Jerusalem. A few favorite spots include:
1.Jerusalem’s Nablus Road, which is filled with vendors sellling all types of gifts, household, crafts, specialty foods and other items,
2. The Damascus Gate in Jerusaelm is bustling with people of all ages and there are many vendors selling grilled food items, teas and other food and drink items
3. The Muslim quarter within the Old City of Jerusalem is decorated with festive lights that have been strung along the walls and across the alleyways.