By Sam Sokol
I’m now in New York. The first thing I asked upon arriving in the city was, “What country am I in and what day is this?” I’ve been traveling for weeks. Working as a correspondent requires travel, but rarely do I have to go to so many different countries in so short a span. I have been in Istanbul, Kiev, New York, and next week I will travel to Budapest.
First I went to Istanbul, Turkey. I was there to write a feature and ended up spending Yom HaZikaron with the local Jewish community only days after Turkish security forces announced that they had arrested an Al-Qaida cell planning an attack on the Neve Shalom synagogue, which was bombed ten years ago, in 2003.
While I cannot get into all of the details of what I saw because the articles I wrote are as yet unpublished, I thought that several vignettes from my time abroad would be of interest.
Following Shacharit and breakfast at the Etz Hachaim synagogue in the Ortokoy neighborhood of Istanbul, a gorgeous neighborhood on the banks of the Bosporus, I went with my local host, a Muslim Turk, to see the famous Blue Mosque. A gigantic structure, the mosque is a marvel of engineering and architecture. With us was an American-Israeli rabbi who, while prayers were being conducted inside, decided that it was time to daven Minchah.
“The Rambam says you can pray in a mosque,” he pronounced. I expressed reservations, telling him that praying in a local holy site during their services could be construed as a studied insult and that we should respect local sensitivities. However, he was adamant and began to daven as the imam led one of the five daily Islamic prayers. Nobody paid much attention, but boy, was I tense.
I arrived back in Israel, had a couple of days with my wife and children, and then back to the airport I went. Next stop: Kiev.
I wrote last week about how I spent time at the Kiev Interfaith Forum, the brainchild of local Jewish leader Oleksandr Feldman, a member of the local parliament, the Rada. I will not go back over the issue of anti-Semitism in this column but will describe one incident from my trip.
I left my hotel with a public relations specialist to go and find a grocery. I was looking to buy a small bottle of the local vodka as a souvenir. Suddenly, in the middle of the street, we saw a big, neon Jew, a bearded hasid, smiling down from a restaurant’s sign. A wrought iron Magen David and a statue of a short, fat, and hook-nosed Jewish moneychanger completed the external decor. The moneychanger was stuck in a pose of rapture with the piles of coins before him, and inside the entry hall of the restaurant were paintings of large-nosed Jews, their peyot flapping.
I must say, I felt somewhat insecure for the rest of my walk. That feeling, local religious leaders told me, is getting more and more common, and anti-Semitism has begun to become more legitimate in the public discourse.
Next was New York. I arrived in Tel Aviv from Kiev in the afternoon, and by the next morning I was boarding an El Al plane to JFK. Luckily, the El Al strike had ended by then. My experience seemed to confirm what one travel agent told me, namely that people had begun changing their tickets from El Al to other airlines during the strike, as I had an entire three seats to myself. I slept, curled up in a makeshift nest, most of the way to the United States.
It was a pleasure to again see a Five Towns Jewish Times issue that was not displayed on my screen. Newsprint, no matter how much we transfer the news online, is still very important.
I am now in the midst of several days of meetings and spent Sunday at the Jerusalem Post’s annual conference in New York, a thoroughly pleasant and interesting affair. More on that later. Now, I need a coffee and about two weeks of rest. Sunday morning I head straight to Budapest.