06/05/2013 12:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Israel Journal: Shabbos


The spectacle of Jerusalem on the Sabbath can at first remind you of any crowded ethnically populated urban center. You could be in the Bronx or especially Brooklyn, seeing Orthodox Jews in their Streimels rushing home to synagogue before sundown. All that's missing is the rumble of the elevated trains. In its place you hear the calls of three of the world's great religions for whom Jerusalem is a sacred site. As you head towards The Wailing Wall, the golden Dome of the Rock appears like a setting sun above the rooftops. The Muslim call to prayer and chiming bells from a nearby church create their own antiphonal score and every morning at 5:30 you can attend the ritual by which the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is opened with a super large key. We often look at prayer as a solitary activity. Certainly meditation is predicated on the notion of individuality even as much as it may allow us to transcend our own immediate concerns. Yet there is another notion of prayer based on the idea of strength in numbers. In Israel there are many uniforms that identify the varying collectivities of spiritual experience, from the hijabs worn by Muslim women to the white and black of the Druze and yes there are some who would say that the young men and women in IDF uniforms roaming through the crowds with their machine guns also represent a spiritual order or at the very least an attempt at keeping spiritual order. The Hasids and other Orthodox Jews who gather in front of the Wailing Wall with men on one side and women on the other partake in a spiritual experience that derives from the company of others. Group solidarity can come from sharing a common purpose--such as that of survival. However, it can also derive from a kind of aspiration in which the self is suppressed in order to allow for unification with the cosmos or God. The infant's experience of what Freud termed the oceanic feeling might be an early footprint for such strivings. Jung talked about the collective unconscious. Joyous and ecstatic praying is what occurs at the Wailing Wall on Shabbos and for a moment even the casual observer might forget his or her self.

Photograph by Hallie Cohen

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}