Sunday, July 6, 2008

Le Quartier Juif

Paris_QuartierJuif-1, originally uploaded by david_stirling.

The Marais is a very hip area north of the Seine bordering on Beaubourg and the Centre Pompidou. It is where the Picasso Museum located, along with a host of cafés, galleries, and clothing stores. It is also home to the ancient Jewish Quarter, dating back to the 13th century. It is particularly popular on Sundays, and in the evening the falafel stands are packed with people lining up for a snack.

At the confluence of all the falafel stands, a group of men from an orthodox temple had set up a card table with Tefellin and pamphlets, and were encouraging all the (Jewish) men passing by to take a moment to pray. I was fascinated by this missionary activity, which I had never seen in Judaism before. I watched for a while as men strapped the little black boxes to their biceps and foreheads and recited a prayer.

The head guy, who I have to assume was a rabbi, was genially yet persistently stopping anyone within reach. Since I had only the vaguest understanding of how the whole thing works, I went up to him and asked if he could explain to me what the significance of the prayer was. He politely said that it was a prayer that went up from the head and from the heart. I wanted more details, but it was clear he was there to speak with his own people, not chat about religious traditions. In that way it was very different from any other street evangelism I had experienced before. I'm sure this is nothing new in most cities--certainly in New York, but it was a first for me, so I found the whole thing very interesting.

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