(Notes for the Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah)

Archive for immigration

The Temple on Lane 253: Bahrain’s Synagogue

As rumor had it, the one synagogue on the Arabian Peninsula was in Bahrain. It seemed like an easy find — a sore thumb somewhere in two mile-wide downtown Manama. Earlier in the day the address I had plucked from an online forum, “Sasa’ah street,” seemed to get vague grunts of recognition from taxi drivers: near the souq, maybe. I decided not to make the trip to the desert to see the “Tree of Life”, a large mesquite that seems to spring miraculously from arid ground; instead, buzzing and sleepy from a long, bacony brunch, I went in search of the country’s Jewish roots.

A friend dropped me at the arched gate of the Manama Souq, a mostly pedestrian criss-cross of simple stands and boutiques. I forgot my phone (GPS and all, though unlikely to be helpful) — this quest would depend entirely upon the knowledge and forthrightness of passersby and standers around.

It didn’t take long for me to realize I had no idea where I was walking. After a few blocks, the bustling lights of the central shopping district gave way to construction and inauspicious quiet. I figured I’d ask around. I didn’t know how people would feel about any past or present Jewish structures, but I was leaving the country in a few hours and I had a better shot playing honest than sneaky. I greeted two older men chatting in the street beneath the pointed dome of a beautifully ornate blue and green Shia mosque. “Do you know where the Jewish synagogue is?”

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Off the Cuff

There is something distinctly comforting about the lack of possibility. To be entirely unable to do something, to be barred from success by the laws of physics or nature or immigration — this is a kind of freedom that relieves us of the stress of trying.

If, say, I had to be on Mars by 2 p.m. today to polish the wheels of the Rover, I just couldn’t do it. Relax. It’s impossible. But even the faintest whiff of the minutest possibility that something cool is out there or somewhere cool is visitable and that the time and the tides are right — this is the pea under my mattress. And this princess has a lot to do in the morning.

Recently, the Vice-Consul of the Embassy of the largest democracy in the world, which will remain nameless (rhymes with Joo-dan), rejected my application (delivered by a Sudanese friend — Americans cannot apply directly from Abu Dhabi) because my last name revealed a deal-breaker: that I was Jewish. In Saudi Arabia, a country I want to visit out of the kind of curiosity that sends a couple of young kids to drop by Boo Radley’s house, I have also been stymied. No tourist visas, and no 2-day transit visas for men traveling alone (without a wife or family).

Their proximity, and the fact that I once thought I could go to these places, has made me unable to give up. There must be some way. Once the possibility switch is flipped, it may be impossible to flip back. Or maybe there is some way to let go — to realize that some things just cannot happen, or aren’t worth forcing, or, or, or…

When I run out of time, I can decide whether to regret defeat or to be satisfied by the attempt.

For now, I guess I’ll keep trying.

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