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A Passover story: From Amman to Jerusalem

by Rhonda Spivak, April 2, 2017

            We were driving from Amman to Jerusalem in order to make it back in time for the first Passover Seder. The day before we had gone to see Jordan’s Mount Nebo, the hilltop where it is believed that Moses looked out to see The Holy Land, spread before him. I had taken my son, who was then in grade 4, out of school for five weeks. We stopped to gather little pieces of the pinkish rock of Mount Nebo for his classmates’ as a memento of our journey.

            There were 8 of us in our van driving on the way back from Jordan to Israel – the Greenfield family, myself and my son, and our Jordanian driver, who we would leave with our van, as we crossed the border at Beit-Shean to return to Jerusalem.

            Somewhere along the road from Amman toward the Allenby Bridge (in Jordan), we saw a sign pointing towards the tomb of Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) at the entrance to a small valley. It was in a lovely, but modest white mosque with a white mosque that stood in the middle of the valley. Our Jordanian driver, (who was one of the few Jordanians I encountered who would even utter the word “Israel” as opposed to referring to all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as “Palestine”) suggested we stop as we approached the mosque.

            The site off the beaten track where we stopped was named Wadi Shu’ayb (Jethro’s Ravine). We watched as Jordanian families frolicked in the very small stream that trickled down the valley between the mountains. Water is an extremely scarce natural resource in Jordan and this was the only time on our journey where we encountered a natural running stream.

            The white mosque, which housed a shrine to the biblical figure Jethro, sparkled in the April sunlight. Our driver asked us if we wanted to go in and see it. Needless to say, we were the only Jews visiting the mosque (although we had removed any visible Jewish markings such as my chai necklace). If we hadn’t been with our Jordanian driver, I don’t think we would have felt comfortable going inside.

            It was my son’s first visit inside a mosque and he remembers having to take off his shoes, and seeing all of the men crouched down praying. He watched silently.

            There was a large blue ceramic tiled washing station outside the mosque, and I splashed the water on my face.

            At the end of the mosque, I peered into a room which housed a shrine to the biblical Jethro. For those who do not remember their bible well enough, Jethro was a Midianite who became the father-in-law of Moses after he gave his daughter Zipporah in marriage to Moses. Were we really at the location of Jethro’s tomb? I am not sure. In fact, there is another spot in Nablus on Mount Gerizim, where Jethro is also said to be buried, but I did not think it would be polite to suggest to the Muslims praying at the mosque, that Jethro was in fact not buried there!

 

After a while, we left Jethro’s tomb to finish crossing back into Israel at Beth-Shean. As we approached the border crossing, I remember that we had bought each of the 3 boys in our group a real Bedouin knife, as a souvenir. (In fact, Haskel Greenfield was the one who bought his two sons Bedouin knives, and I had caved into my son’s request to get one. “Why can they get one and I can’t he whined?” The knife blade was so sharp that I hid it for years, worrying that my son might hurt his sister with it accidentally. I complained to Haskel that a razor sharp Bedouin knife was a completely inappropriate gift for an 8 year old boy, and his sons were even younger. “Boys will be boys” he responded with a smirk. But the smirks were wiped off our faces when we realized that seven Jews with sharp knives might get torn apart at the Jordanian border. Luckily, we got through the border without incident, and then we drove back to Jerusalem. My son and I went to my cousin’s Seder that evening. I think Jethro wherever he is buried would have approved of our return to Jerusalem in time for the Seder.

 

Our journey to Mount Nebo, Nebi Shu’ayb (Jethro’s tomb) and Jerusalem occurred in April, 2008.

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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