I live a ten minute walk from Yafo (also called Yaffa in Arabic and Jaffa in English). It is a town that has been inhabited since about 7500 BCE. Take a moment to digest that, because I sure am.
Yafo is on the water- there is a beautiful beach. And I now am blessed with the ability, when I’m feeling stressed or want to chill out, to walk half a mile and gaze at the Mediterranean Sea.
I’ve always wanted to live by the beach and I’m now living that dream.
I wasn’t sure what to do tonight, but a friend had mentioned there was a free festival in Yafo. She wasn’t able to come in the end, but since it was so close, I made the walk anyways.
Along the way, I saw a boxing gym- I’m considering taking up the sport so I took down the information. As with almost all doors in Israel (I’m still getting used to this, it’s pretty cool!), there was a mezuzah. And inside were some sweaty (and ripped) people boxing. Looked like fun.
I continued along the way until I got to a 15th century mosque that was broadcasting Islamic chanting. It had an eerie and beautiful green light and I just stood, closed my eyes, and soaked in the chanting. What a beautiful moment.
I made my way along the old brick streets until I came across a whole series of bustling outdoor cafes. One of them had a man singing Greek music, so I stopped for a while and just listened.
Then I saw the most delicious-looking gelato place. I went inside and there were all sorts of decadent flavors. What most stunned me, as an American with many Indian friends, was to find KULFI gelato! Not something you’d expect from a beachfront Mediterranean town. I ate it and it was goooood.
Post-gelato coma, I walked towards the beach. I passed a Georgian Jewish restaurant and then came upon a beautiful promenade. I saw a Muslim family (they were speaking Arabic and the woman was wearing a hijab- Yafo is a very diverse town of Muslims, Jews, and Christians). I just approached them in Arabic and started asking about this beautiful town.
Turns out the father owns a grocery store. The daughter speaks English, French, Arabic, and Hebrew- because she studies in ALL FOUR LANGUAGES at a Catholic private school with Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Please, American friends, re-read how many languages she studies in. Because I spoke with her in all of them and she really does speak them all.
Her family told me Yafo is known for its hummus (which they insisted was superior to Jerusalem hummus) and its seafood. That, in their opinion, the three religious groups all got along well. They even told me about how they make the hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca)- apparently there is a special treaty that allows Israeli Arabs to go to Jordan, get a special travel document, and then enter Saudi Arabia (which does not have official relations with Israel).
They were a truly friendly and approachable family and I love getting the chance to practice my Arabic and learn about my new home. This will probably be worth many more blogs (people write books about it and only scratch the surface), but I do feel a special obligation to learn more about Arab culture here. It is becoming more clear to me as the jet lag fades and reality sets in that I am not only a Jew coming to join the Jewish people here. I am now also an Israeli- and not all Israelis are Jewish. Just as I remember what it felt like to be a minority in the United States, I want to make a special effort to reach out to Arabs here because they are also a part of this society. And they have their own unique culture, history, and identity which I want to better understand.
After talking to the Arab family, I headed up to the festival. In front of a historic Crusader church, there were parties, live music, and people from all over the world. The Maccabiah Games were in town, which meant Jewish athletes from all over the world were in Yafo celebrating. I met Germans, Russians, Canadians- I saw people from Uruguay, Argentina, France. I spoke a million different languages- and heard a million more spoken.
As I walked home after this fun-filled multicultural evening, I stood in awe. I come from one of the most diverse and international cities on the planet, Washington, D.C. And I had to say that just taking a 10 minute walk from my apartment, I felt right at home. Yafo is a vibrant, ethnically diverse, 10,000 year old city. It’s right at my doorstep. After the boxing studio, next to the Indian gelato stand, right above the sea.