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Weaving together traditions in Jerusalem's Old City

Syrian silks and a talented tailor bring together leaders from Muslim, Roman Catholic, and ultra-Orthodox Jewish religions.

By Daniella CheslowCorrespondent / February 27, 2012


• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

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Even as Syria suffers violent internal turmoil, in Jerusalem’s Old City Syrian silks from Damascus and Aleppo continue to bring together leaders from three religions.

Fabric vendor Bilal Abu Khalaf outfits ultra-Orthodox Jews with white striped cotton and silk for their caftans. Some traditional Muslims wear his black-and-white striped fabrics for their kumbaz, a knee-length robe. In the days before Easter and Christmas, local nuns sew Mr. Abu Khalaf’s gold damask cloth into the regal vestments of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox clergy.

Abu Khalaf is a third-generation salesman who follows the customs of his grandfather’s time more than he does those of today. He wears a kumbaz to work. He buys his morning tea from a vendor down an alley and sends out sewing assignments to tailors nearby in the walled city. The rainbow of nearly 200 delicately woven fabrics piled onto shelves in his shop come from Syrian looms where damask silk weaving was first perfected.

Abu Khalaf says he has not been back to Syria in the past year because of the political upheavals. But he still has some Syrian goods to sell, including one eight-color woven depiction of the Muslim general Saladin waging battle in the Crusades. Real gold thread runs through its pattern.

“The Syrian silks have a special touch and artistic design,” he says. “I try to use my clothes to show the old touch of Jerusalem.”

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