I don’t know if little girls have tea parties nowadays or not, but I did when I was little. I had a tiny toy tea set for my dolls, and when I was a little older, my friends and I had tea parties with real tea. We crooked our little fingers and felt very grown up.
The tea parties that I participated in as a girl were probably a carry-over from the Victorian practice of paying calls on friends and acquaintances to visit and drink tea, a tradition that went out of fashion with the advent of modern communication technology.
Meanwhile, here in Israel, the tradition of drinking tea with friends is alive and well. Visiting a friend? They are sure to offer you a cup of tea. Attending a conference or meeting? Tea will be served. Shopping at a small business? There’s a good chance that the shopkeeper will offer you tea.
Tea-drinking seems to be fairly universal here. I’ve had tea with Israelis, Palestinians, and Bedouins. I’m not 100% sure of the cultural meaning behind it, but my feeling is that when someone offers me tea, they are offering a symbol of their friendship. I suspect that the day that everyone drinks tea together is the day that there will be peace in the Middle East.
So, on Wednesday morning, as I sipped a cup of tea in Jerusalem, you might be surprised to learn that I was feeling a bit sad and lonely. In fact, I hate to admit it, but I was having a pity party for myself. I think that I was justified in feeling miserable. It was cold and windy and rainy. The bus ride into Jerusalem had made me more carsick than usual, and the nausea hadn’t worn off yet. I arrived too early in the morning, so nothing was open yet. I wandered through the Old City of Jerusalem, getting colder and wetter all the time.
Finally, I stumbled upon a tiny cafe that was open. I bought a small, over-priced cup of tea, and huddled under the awning of a nearby closed shop to drink it. It was a good cup of tea, warming me up and settling my stomach. Yet, somehow, having to buy a cup of tea and drink it alone made me feel quite sorry for myself. Just as drinking tea with someone is a symbol of friendship, that solitary cup of tea made me feel very alone.
But, here’s the thing about self-pity. It takes things that are not so bad, and makes them seem like outright tragedies. Yes, it’s a little lonely living by myself halfway around the world from home. But, I was forgetting Jesus’ promise to always be with his followers (Matthew 28:20). I was also forgetting that I am surrounded by kind and caring people who have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome here. By the end of the day, I felt pretty silly for feeling so lonely.
I had a full schedule that day with errands that involved meeting up with multiple friends. Would you be at all surprised to learn that every one of them offered me a cup of tea?
By the time that I finished my lonely cup of tea, it was 8:00 am. I headed to Saint Annes Church, which is one of my favorite spots in Jerusalem. In addition to being the site of the Pools of Bethesda, it also has a Crusader-era church with amazing acoustics. I was their first visitor of the day. It’s rare that I have the place to myself, but the rain must have kept everyone else away. I stayed for an hour, singing hymns. The worship session must have worked an attitude adjustment on me, because I felt much better by the time I finished. Despite having the whole church to myself, I didn’t feel alone anymore.
I braved the rain to walk to the Ritz Hotel, where our dig team stays when they are in the country. We store stuff in the basement of the hotel, and I needed to collect my dig clothes for the upcoming dig at Khirbet ‘Auja. The hotel manager, Issa, unlocked the storeroom for me. Once I had gathered what I needed, he invited me up to his office and fixed a cup of tea for me. He drank coffee, and we had a nice visit while we drank.
From there, it was a short but cold walk to the Rockefeller museum and library. I talked to the curator at the museum in an attempt to track down some of the finds from an old excavation at Shiloh. He wasn’t able to help, but he gave me the contact information for the person to ask. I went from his office to the library, where I spent several hours poring over excavation and survey reports. They had every book that I had been looking for, and I got a lot of information that I needed for my research proposal.
My next stop was at Zak’s Antiquities. Zak is a good friend and I was hoping that he would let me stash my bag of dig clothes at his shop so that I wouldn’t have to lug them all over town with me. He agreed and offered me a cup of tea, which was just what I needed after the blustery walk to his shop. By the time we finished drinking tea and analyzing a Late Bronze Age juglet, I had to hurry to keep a 2:00 pm appointment. I had spent so long at the library that I hadn’t had time to eat anything, and I was getting hungry, but I didn’t have time to stop for food.
My appointment was with Zvi, whom I had met when we were working on the Mount Ebal sifting project two years ago. He was involved in the original excavation at the site. Since we were not able to get into Israel for almost two year after the project, Zvi has done a lot of the leg work involved in researching our finds. I needed to meet up with him to collect the seeds that we had found in the sifting project. They were in his possession because he had picked them up from the archaeobotanist when she was finished analyzing them.
When I met up with Zvi, he was in a celebratory mood because he had just received the author’s copy an article that he wrote that will be coming out soon. He bought me lunch and a cup of tea. He told stories from the original excavation at Mount Ebal, and talked about a number of famous archaeologists whom he has met in person and I have only heard about. I enjoyed visiting and getting to know him better.
By now, the rain had slackened to a drizzle, but the wind was stronger than ever, driving it sideways. I had one more errand to run. I had ordered a couple of books online from my new favorite bookstore, the Book Gallery, and I needed to stop there to pick them up. While I was at the bookstore, I took a quick glance at the archaeology section, and found one more book that I wanted.
I made my purchases and headed back to Zak’s to pick up the bag I had left there. I intended to take the light-rail train, but I just missed it. I knew that I could walk to the old city before the next one would come along. By the time I arrived at Zak’s I was chilled again, so I was glad when he offered me another cup of tea. It took a few minutes because the storm was causing power outages. Finally the power stayed on long enough to boil the water, and Zak’s associate, Ian, fixed me the nicest cup of tea that I had had all day. It included thyme, basil, oranges, and honey. I checked the bus schedule and realized that I should try to catch the 4:40 pm bus. I gathered my belongings, and Zak sent me on my way with dried apricots for the road. He also gathered a handful of assorted herbal tea bags and sent those with me, too.
My day that started with a lonely cup of tea had been filled with an abundance of social tea. I am so grateful for all of the generous people who have gone out of their way to show kindness to me here in Israel and to share a cup of tea with me.