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diary of a sofer - part 28

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

Above: a stitched picture of Jerusalem

It's been simply ages since I've had anything particularly new to report as I’ve really just been working away on scrolls. However that all changed recently when I took my first holiday to Erets Yisrael for some 14 years! Ostensibly holidaying in Netanya, I had one day of 'business' in the old city in Jerusalem in Mea She'arim. My good friend Yehudah (see right and Marketplace) became tour guide for the day and pointed me in the direction of a shop where I could buy the materials I needed. Ink, parchment - and in particular a replacement piece to just the right size - giddin and books (see sources for lots more new volumes).

me and yehudah opt

Above: Yehudah and me with Jerusalem behind.

Working partly in dollars and partly in Shekels taxed my sterling based mind but I was up for spending. However I was also up for waiting as the replacement piece at just the right size was proving difficult - even as an unruled sheet. The animated shop keepers sent out to another shop and whilst waiting made tea and I browsed books. Buying was an odd process as it was interrupted by the arrival of two sofrim who weren't buying but selling. One had a sefer haftarot (haftorah scroll) the writing of which really appeared as if it had been printed - extremely uniform - either the scribe was perfect or there was something odd. It was also pointed. The shop owners didn't want to buy and the sellers couldn't believe this and as one would expect an argument began. Interesting to watch but odd in context. Them having left and my replacement piece not yet having arrived, the shop owner proceeded to show me his invention - which was cool, an upside down tikkun where the lines were in reverse order - top line at the bottom etc., which you fold over and place under the line you are writing. Very clever indeed!
I finally left the shop an hour and a half later laden with scribal goodies.

My purchasing was not yet done, however and two days later, back in Jerusalem more as a tourist, in the shuk in the Jewish quarter, I was engaged in some serious bargaining. One of my problems when I go to present to children on matters sofrut is that they don't visualise me as a scribe. I don't have peyot and I'm not an old man with a beard (Yehudah is not an old man either but at least he has a beard!). For young children educational sessions need to be very visual and some time ago, having seen my brother in law's father in a rather fetching housecoat, I decided I needed something that was a bit colourful to wear - a bit Joseph and his technicolour dreamcoat, if you will.

Actually in all likelihood the coat of many colours is erroneous and k’tonet pasim means a long sleeved coat. I was actually looking for a long coat.

chhosing jalabiyah opt

Above: choosing the jalabiyah. Right: My new outfit!

I tried a few stalls to no avail but then happened upon one Arab who claimed to have just what I wanted inside. Well it made a change from the two normal opening bids 'you Eeeenglish, I have some questions' or 'you Eeeenglish - feeesh and chipsss'. Neither of which worked well.

jalabiah opt

Clambering over his stock, my erstwhile Arab friend singularly failed to find anything suitable, but then decided to drag my girlfriend and I to a store room a few twists and turns away. More clambering ensued but with little success. 'Wait' he says, 'my nephew will have' and so he leads us to another shop where another Arab of vaguely similar age (so probably not a nephew) entices us into his shop. But here we struck gold and he did have some long men's gowns called jalabiyahs that could be adapted. Finally settling on one, we got to the question I had been asking for some time - camah zeh oleh? How much is it? The first price quoted gained the following answer from me - 'do I look like a rich American?' and the haggling began in earnest. An hour later we had moved from $850 to a more realistic figure but I was still insisting on £80 and they were complaining about 'tough British'. Amazingly they let us walk away, gave us a card and let us go and didn't follow us. We were clearly under the base price. A little while later we returned and re-engaged. At £90 the jalabiyah was in my hands but still in his too and it was only with addition of a further 100 shekels that he finally let go. It was great fun and made the garment even more special. Wonder what the kids will make of it?

Mordechai Pinchas

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