Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dr. Shakshuka - Jaffa, Israel

Our first night in Israel our guide Yosef Spiezer took us to a Libyan restaurant called Dr. Shakshuka which has been in business for 34 years. Dr. Shakshuka is owned by Beno Gubso who uses his parents' recipes brought from Tripoli, Libya. Gubso's face adorns the paper table cloths and napkins and we could tell he was in the restaurant that night because of the likeness to his picture on them. The name "shakshuka" comes from the name of his signature dish which consists of fried eggs, margaz (kosher spicy sausage), tomatoes, paprika and garlic, prepared and served in a hot skillet. We walked into what felt like a bazaar as the ceiling was adorned with brass pots and pans and the walls were filled with pictures, mirrors and other paraphernalia.  
Outside Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa.
Pots and pans hang from the ceiling.
Our guide, Yosef Spiezer, at the end of the table.
Ben Gubso watched us from our soiled paper table cloth as well as from a table in the restaurant. 
All nine of us, including our guide, were seated at a long table and it was suggested that we have a "Taster's Special" which I believe consisted of a sampling of eight Tripolian salads, shakshuka and hraime (fish in a spicy sauce). We also got additional dishes which included mafrum (potatoes stuffed with meat), baslak (beans, spinach and meat), grilled fish, shishkabob and couscous and beakers full of lemonade. 
Small plates of tahini, red cabbage, white cabbage and other vegetables initially placed on our table. 
The spicy tomato salsa to the left was particularly good.
I believe this is baslak.
And I believe this is mafrum.
We didn't really realize what we were getting and all of the sudden we had an onslaught of dishes being placed on our table and they seemed to just keep coming. 

I liked the signature shakshuka dish, but particularly enjoyed the salad with heaps of hummus on it. The hummus was so fresh and tasty that I could have focused on it and been happy. The dish that seemed to be the hit with most was a shredded chicken which had a nice tasty grilled flavor to it. It went pretty quickly. 
Salad which I mixed with...
...heaps of hummus (my picture barely got it before it was all gone).
Shishkabob with grilled chicken, grilled onions, sausage, calamari? and another meat I don't recall. 
A soup with carrots, potatoes and other vegetables. 
My initial plate with a sampling of salads.
My plate later stuffed with meats and salad.
It was Kasey's birthday and so we also primed the staff for some sort of a celebration of his birthday - anything they could come up with. They brought out little individual cups of herbal tea and some hard little cakes which I sampled and thought were forgettable. 
The birthday boy with a smile on his face. 
It was a nice beginning to our trip and a great introduction to the Middle East.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

St. Peter's Church - Jaffa, Israel

The biblical town of Joppa is today known as Jaffa, or Old Jaffa, now a suburb of Tel Aviv. Jaffa has one of the oldest functioning harbors in the world. Legend has it that Jaffa was founded by Japheth, son of Noah.
An aerial view of the harbor in Jaffa. St. Peter's Church is the large structure left of center.
A view of the beach and Tel Aviv from near St. Peter's.
St. Peter’s Church, in Kedumin Square, is a Franciscan Monastery on a promontory overlooking the old harbor with a good view of Tel Aviv and the coastline. Underneath the church and to its side are the remnants of a crusader fort, and underneath that is an old Byzantine church. The fort was part of the citadel erected by Frederick I and restored by St. Louis, or Louis IX, king of France, who was canonized for his part in the seventh crusade (which he led from 1248 to 1254) and eighth crusade (which he led, starting in 1270 until his death that year from the plague). Remnants of the citadel include two whole circular rooms with low ceilings and fire embrasures. Following the Siege of Jaffa, from March 3 to 7, 1799, Napoleon captured Jaffa from the Ottoman Empire and stayed in the remnants of the citadel incorporated into the church. The church was destroyed and rebuilt twice during the late 18th century and the current structure was built between 1888 and 1894, then renovated in 1903. It is the largest and most distinctive building in Old Jaffa. 
St. Peter's Church
The front of St. Peter's. Portion of the citadel from the old crusader castle sticks out to the right. 
A side of St. Peter's showing the bell tower.
The opposite side with another view of the turret.
An evening view of St. Peter's 
The Franciscan shield, above the entrance, shows two arms superimposed over the cross. The first arm represents Jesus and the second St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. The sleeve that covers the arm of St. Francis represents the habit he wore and now worn by his followers. Each hand is marked with a small cross that represent the wounds Jesus received during his passion and the wounds Francis got during his stigmata. The two arms are mirror images of each other, just as Francis was very much like Jesus during his life and is called "the Mirror of Christ." Beneath is a Jerusalem Cross, also known as the crusader's cross. It is a cross with crossbars or "crutches" at the four ends surrounded by four smaller Greek crosses, one in each quadrant. It originated with the coat of arms worn by Godrey of Bouillon during the First Crusade and remained a symbol of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. 
An inside view of St. Peter's.
The dove above the altar.
The ceiling.
The church commemorates two events: (a)  Peter resuscitating Tabitha, who died; and (b) the vision in the house of Simon the Tanner of a sheet of unclean animals coming down from the skies, signifying to Peter that the church would embrace the Gentiles.

In Acts 9:36-43, Peter raised Tabitha from the dead in Jaffa: In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.  Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.  He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.
An altar commemorating the raising of Tabitha.
A closer view of Peter raising Tabitha.
In Acts 10:9-16, “Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.”

In the meantime, Cornelius the gentile Centurian from Caesarea sent for Peter and Peter responded by traveling to Caesarea. In Acts 10:28, Peter told a group at the home of Cornelius, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” Shortly thereafter, Peter baptized Cornelius.

Later, in Jerusalem, Peter explained (Acts 11:5-14): "I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:  Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw four footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.  But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.  But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.   And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.  And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.  And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:  And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”
The front altar with a painting commemorating Peter's vision.
A closer view of the painting showing Peter with an angel and the vision of the sheet.
We visited St. Peter's with two friends and were on our way to pick up four additional friends who had just come from the airport when our guide noticed a Franciscan priest walking up the sidewalk to the church. He asked the priest how long the church would be open. The priest started talking to us and asked if we were Mormons. We mentioned we were and he talked about his friendships with the Mormons and ultimately invited us all up to St. Peter's for a private tour. It turns out he was Father Angelo Beda Ison, one of the leaders of St. Peter's Church and Monastery. We arrived just as the church was closing and Father Angelo instructed the priest who was closing up to allow us in while he changed into his robes. He then invited us into the Monastery and showed us a room where the Franciscans meet, a courtyard with a statue of King Louis IX, and back into a round room of the former citadel where he said that King Louis IX and Richard the Lionheart had stayed. He talked of going through the old papers in the archives and finding the letter from the pope entrusting the Holy Land to the care of the Franciscans and other treasures he'd found in the archives. 
Father Angelo in one of the rooms of the monastery.
Jerusalem crosses above the ceiling fixtures.
A crucifix with a cross with crutches at each end.
A painting of St. Francis above an entryway into the monastery.
A painting depicting the Transfiguration.
A painting depicting the Passion.
A painting depicting the baptism of Jesus.
A statue of King Louis IX in the courtyard.
A closer look at King Louis IX.
Father Angelo speaking to us in a room from the citadel.
Stained glass from the citadel. 
A sign signifying that the Franciscans have custody of the Holy Land.
Father Angelo, after leading us out the door of the Monastery.
This was one of our treasured experiences in Israel. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Abu Darwish Mosque - Amman, Jordan

For the half-day we scheduled in Amman, Jordan, I listed for our tour guide several mosques I wanted our group to visit. But for reasons that I'm still unsure of, our guide was reluctant to take us to them. He did come through with one for us, the Abu Darwish Mosque. This mosque, commissioned by King Hussein and Mustafa Jakazi, was built in 1961 and funded by Abu Darwish (Mustafa Hassan), who owned the land and financed the building. Hassan was born in Caucasus and loved Syrian architecture. He drew the mosque's design and had the stone for the face work brought in from Syria. It is the distinctive black and white striped face work which make it so appealing. 

Our original view of the mosque took place when we were visiting the Citadel of Amman, on a central hill surrounded by the seven hills of Amman. One of our group, Julia, noticed a black and white striped mosque on the top of one of the hills (named Jebel al-Ashrafiyeh) and asked if that was one of the mosques we were going to visit? I could not see it for a minute, but it turned out that it was, and I was impressed by her sharp eye-sight.
The Abu Darwish Mosque as viewed from the Citadel. It is at the top of the hill, right of center, visible by its minaret.
A close-up of the mosque as viewed from the Citadel.
We asked our guide to forego a tour of the Roman amphitheater to give us time to visit the mosque and it was a good thing we did. By the time our vehicle navigated the horrible Amman traffic, down the Citadel hill, through a valley, and up the steep and twisting one way streets to the top of Jebel al-Ashrafiyeh, it was time for the call to prayer. Our guide, a self-described liberal Sunni Muslim, asked us to stay outside while he went in to see if he could get us permission to visit after prayers were finished. We walked around the outside taking pictures, then inside an administration building across the street while the outside speakers intermittently issued prayers. I've linked a Youtube video of the mosque during the call to prayer (not my video), but the sound quality of it is horrible. 
View of the mosque from the administrative center across the street. The small room with the mihrab was apparently under the covered area in front in the shape of a semi-circle.
View from the front.

When we did get to the mosque with our guide the gate was padlocked shut, but our guide was able to waive to the sheikh inside who came out and opened up the locked gate and invited us in. We then got our own private tour. I had read that it might be difficult to get inside and a German version of Wikipedia confirms that the inside of the mosque is usually restricted to Muslims only. 

We took off our shoes and the women put on head scarves before entering. We were led into a very small room with a mihrab and small lecturn, just off a central room with a small circular washing area, using bottled water, for the ritual bathing. I was confused as I'd not seen such a small room in a mosque before, believing this to be the central worship spot. Through our guide acting as an interpreter (the sheikh spoke Arabic), we got permission to take pictures, and I got the impression that this first room was perhaps a place for children and for those just  learning how to pray. When asked, our guide showed us how he typically kneeled in prayer. Then the sheikh spent quite a bit of time conveying the message to us, through our guide, that Muslims are not mean and nasty killers and that ISIS is a political group and does not represent a true Muslim agenda. As a side note, tourism in Egypt, Israel and Jordan is way down because of the incidents going on with ISIS. I think that our guide presented the sheikh with the opportunity to educate some American tourists about Islam as the pretext to get us the tour and it was effective in that regard. Some members of our group later did express the feeling that the tour and opportunity to talk with the sheikh had impacted their feelings about Islam positively. 
Small room with mihrab and lecturn. 
Closer view of mihrab. Times for call to prayer are listed to the right.
Beautiful carpet.
Area for washing. They used bottled water.
We were asked if we would like to go upstairs and, of course, said, "yes." Another door was unlocked and we walked outside, up some stairs, and then into the main prayer room of the mosque, much, much larger, with another mihrab. Unlike the unusual outside, which is unique as far as mosques that Judy and I have seen, the inside was very simple, but beautiful.
The mihrab facing Mecca and the minbar from which sermons are given. 
Pillars supporting the dome.
Inside the dome. Extremely simple.
Pattern on the pillars.
Calligraphy above the mihrab.
Green carpet and colored wall tiles.
Simple carpet colors.
Various names for Allah.
Calligraphy on the wall.

Simple stained glass.
What I came away with from this visit, mostly, was the appreciation to meet a sheikh and his graciousness in allowing us to visit, including have a picture taken with him.
Our group posing for a picture with the sheikh. 
And allowing our friends to see, as we have in the past, that mosques are beautiful places of worship with a peaceful sacredness to them.