Jerusalem is a prayerful place. The city is home to the Temple Mount (Haram El Sharif), Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a countless number of synagogues, mosques and churches – all of them are busy prayerful places. Each one of the city’s major religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – have their own set prayer times and accompanying rules. As such, it is very common to see Jerusalemites taking a prayer break at different times throughout an ordinary workday. Since so many of us are in the habit of praying, no one makes a fuss over it. When we approach strangers and notice that they are in prayer we wait for them to finish before engaging in conversation.
Last Wednesday, I was in the Givat Shaul Commercial/Industrial Area (located in the northwestern section of Jerusalem near the city entrance), looking for parking. I had been circling in the heavy rain for 15 minutes when I saw a car pull out of a spot. I was relieved because I would make my dental appointment on time…and then just as I lined up my car’s side mirror with the side mirror of a white Renault Kangoo, I glanced at the driver. That sidelong glance gave me the following profile: middle-aged male, grey hair, Mediterranean olive skin, dark blue jacket, no hat or gloves. Just as I began backing into the parking spot, he raised his hands, first palms up towards the sky and then at ear level palms forward. These are the opening gestures of a Moslem Salat (Prayer) in the middle of the day a Salat lasts between 5 and 10 minutes.
On any other Wednesday of the year, I would have just smiled to myself and noted: “It’s raining, he’s praying in his car to keep dry.” But last Wednesday was two days before the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attack in which my late husband and 29 other people were killed, 180 people were injured. As the driver’s hands moved up to ear level, I suddenly couldn’t breathe and I felt my heart expand wildly in my chest. I am ashamed to admit it, I automatically shifted the car into drive and began pulling out of the parking spot. Just then, as the man prayerfully folded his arms one over the other, my brain kicked in and carried out a full-press manual override of my emotions and shifted the car back into reverse. I parked the car, set up my EZ-park electronic parking payment gadget, grabbed my bag and umbrella and stepped out of the car into the rain. My heart and mind were in tune. I didn’t open my umbrella because I wanted to embrace the rain, letting it soak me to the bone, as I triumphantly sang out Psalm 117: “Praise the L-rd, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is His love towards us, and the faithfulness of the L-rd endures forever. Halleluyah!”
Yes, I am a survivor of hateful terrorism, but I choose NOT to be another victim/casualty who succumbs to that hatred.
As I walked away from my car, the white Renault Kangoo drove past me.