One evening a few weeks ago, as I was cooking dinner, one of my roommates invited me to come along to some event she was attending that evening. It was some kind of hippy/Rainbow gathering outside the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, she said, and would mostly just be a lot of happy people singing and smiling and hugging each other and stuff. The group had some kind of similarly hippy name – The Circle of Infinite Love and Holiness or something like that. I accepted my roommate’s invitation – partly because it sounded interesting, partly because I’d been at the beach that day and was guessing that this was one event for which I really didn’t need to brush out the long rattails that the wind, sand, and saltwater had formed in my hair.
So we wandered down to the Jaffa Gate and found a large circle of people, many layers deep, seated in the open square. Those in the center played a variety of instruments, and everyone else sang and swayed along to the familiar, folky tunes of Jewish history. Many were clothed in long skirts and woven ponchos; many were not. As my roommate and I seated ourselves on the outskirts of the circle, people around us turned to smile warmly and scooted over to make room for us. Periodically, one of the giant sticks of incense that was being passed around the circle would make it to our section; many, upon receiving the incense, would wave it around themselves and around their friends’ heads like some sort of patchouli-scented magic wand. I passed on the incense.
When one of the slow, rhythmic songs the instrumentalists were playing would pick up and become more lively, most of the circle would stand up and begin dancing; as the beats of the drums became faster and faster and faster, the dancing and flailing became more and more wild and frenetic. At one point, while everyone was dancing, I looked over to the other side of the circle. There, I saw a stooped, older Arab man in a long white robe. As he rapturously danced to the music and absorbed the atmosphere of carefree joy surrounding him, he grabbed the hand of the Orthodox Jew standing next to him; the two began dancing together, a whirl of kefiyya and long side curls. Someone near them observed the moment and pushed them gently into the middle of the circle, where they continued dancing together for a few minutes. All the dancing attendees were moved and overwhelmed with excitement at the sight, and the musicians quickly changed their song to one of the most classic in Jewish culture: “Oad yavo shalom aleinu v’al kulam (Peace will still come to us and to everyone)”. And this massive group of hippies, tourists, Israelis, and Arabs dancing outside the Jaffa Gate sang the song at the tops of their lungs, heads tilted back to the starry night sky, many of them simultaneously grinning and crying.
It was, perhaps, a somewhat cliche moment; but it was also memorable and even beautiful.