An Israeli Neighborhood Moment – Home

I went across the street to the local makolet (the equivalent of a mini-mart) to pick up a few things. I chatted a bit with the cashier and an older neighborhood guy joined in the conversation. At a certain point, it was just him and me.

“Have you lived in the neighborhood long?”

“A few months.”

“Oh, where do you live?” (Anywhere else you might think twice about answering this question, but this is Israel.)

“Over there at number ___.”

“Oh, yeah? I was born in that building! Now I live across the street at number ___.”

I found out the guy was in his mid-60s. That means his parents moved into this neighborhood a few years after the state was born, raised their kids, and some of those kids stayed right here. He told me that he lived in his parents’ apartment in my building until he was 28 and got married.

Israel is only 70 years old. I used to meet gray-haired people who built the state. Now here I was meeting a gray-haired person for whom the state was built. In his lifetime, he didn’t remember a time when there wasn’t an Israel. His parents did, but he was born and raised right here on this street with a birthright to the Jewish homeland.

This must be a special neighborhood though. A colleague of mine lives nearby in the apartment he was born in. It used to belong to his grandparents, his parents lived there, and now he lives there with his family. His parents moved down the street.

I find it fascinating from the point of view of someone who was born in Russia, moved to Israel, grew up in the US, and moved back to Israel. Where is “home”? For me, it’s wherever I am right now. For these two, it’s this neighborhood right here and will never be anywhere else.


“Won’t you be my neighbor?”

“Mom, can I go visit with Mr. Rogers?”

Taking her 5-year-old’s request very seriously, she asked, “Well, how long will you be gone?”

“Oh, about a half an hour.”

“Ok. Have a good time.”

And I plunked myself down in front of the television and had an undisturbed visit with Mr. Rogers.


This Google Doodle is only in the United States and I know Mister Rogers is more or less an American phenomenon. I wish it was global.

There is only one person in the whole world like you, and people can like you just because you’re you.”

A great message to give to children.

You are special and so is everyone else in this world.”

A reminder that we should not only value ourselves, but that each person has value.

“Childhood lies at the very heart of who we are and who we become.”

Our childhoods don’t have to be perfect, but if we are allowed to use the tools to learn and grow from our experiences, then we can make ourselves and the world around us better.


All of Mr. Rogers’ messages fit in with the Jewish value of choosing life.

And where there is life, there is hope.

Perhaps this Google Doodle will remind people, especially people in power, of a few simple truths:

“I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen – day and night!”

“I’d like to be remembered for being a compassionate human being who happened to be fortunate enough to be born at a time when there was a fabulous thing called television that could allow me to use all the talents that I had been given.”

So now, in the New Year, and a day before my birthday (my own new year), I wish you all a life of purpose and meaning, doing the things that you love that make you, your families, and the world around you better.

And if you need a little inspiration, go have a visit with Mr. Rogers. It is surely time well spent.

Israelis – 70 Years Young

This week was Israel’s 70th Independence Day! Hooray!

I saw this video on Facebook and I think it’s a pretty good description of what it means to be Israeli. It’s a melting pot, it’s a salad, it’s a quilt.


In my new neighborhood, I think I’ve finally moved to Israel.

This is the opening to an program broadcast in Israel in the late 1970s to help people learn English. You might notice that it was British English back in those days!


“Nu, Itzik! Where are you?!”

This was the first thing I heard at 7am on my first morning in my new apartment. It sounded like the guy was standing outside my door. Was it locked?

“Yalla! Itzik, let’s go!”

I’m not Itzik. I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear anything and hide under the blanket. The cats are already freaked out and hiding under the bed.

cat-2806957_1920Representative picture – this is neither me nor any of my cats


“Hey! Benny’s mom!”

A little old lady was sitting next to me at the bus stop and a car stopped in the middle of the street. The driver was calling out to this lady.

“Where are you headed?”

At first it was obvious that she didn’t quite know who this was and her only clue was that this was her son’s friend. “I’m on the way to the doctor.”

“Get in! I’ll take you!”

“Oh, no. That’s fine.” A car had come up behind the guy and waited while the exchange continued.

“No, no, no. I’d love to take you. Get in.” Another car came from the other direction.

It took her a moment to get to the other side of the street and get in the car, but everyone waited. And off they went.


In my old neighborhoods, there were a lot of foreigners, especially Americans. So going to the grocery store was always a culture shock experience of long lines, bagging your own groceries, cashiers shouting for change, and barely contained chaos. The people in line and in the store are just barely hanging on to their sanity to get through the experience.

“I only wanted to buy some bread and cheese! Why?! Why is it like this?”


In my new grocery store, it’s exactly the same: long lines, bagging my own groceries, cashiers shouting (for change, for greetings, for someone to switch her/him out), and Wild West chaos. But the people are different.

“Hey. I’m behind you. Ok?” I’m now in charge of holding this guy’s place.

“I’m back in one second.” Now the lady in front of me is off because she forgot something.

“Oh, where did you find that? I should get some too. I’m back in one second.”

We’re all in it together and no one is upset about anything.


Walking around my neighborhood, I see that it is a place where people actually live. They try to beautify their porches. They grow flowers and herbs. They vigorously clean every Friday. They make the best of what they have. Children play in the many parks. It’s a place where people know their neighbors – if not by name, then by sight.

Here’s a newly rejuvenated park that I found in my wanderings. It was early-ish, so no people around yet.


Every street has a story

Like neighborhoods around the world, Jerusalem neighborhoods have thematic street names. Some are nice; some lead you to question the sanity of whoever made the choices – I’m looking at you Gallows Martyrs Street and Valley of Ghosts.

My first Jerusalem neighborhood had street names like Shimoni and Tchernichovsky, two poets. My most recent neighborhood included names like Washington, Lincoln, Hess, and Zamenhof (two US presidents, a founder of labor Zionism, and the inventor of Esperanto). Now I have gone deep into Jewish history with Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, Yossi ben Yoezer, Ben Baba (or Bava), and Eliezer haGadol.

The main thoroughfare is Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, the person most responsible for Judaism as it is practiced today. In the year 68 CE, the Romans had laid siege to Jerusalem and it is said that Yochanan ben Zakai was smuggled out of the city in a coffin by his students. He was taken to General Vespasian and he struck a deal. Saying that he had a vision of Vespasian becoming emperor, he asked for Yavneh to be set aside as a place for Jewish learning if his vision should come to pass. Vespasian became emperor and kept his promise. Thus, the center of Judaism moved away from the Temple in Jerusalem and made possible a diasporic existence of Jewish tradition and learning.


The other streets in the neighborhood are named after sages who wrote foundational texts of Judaism. Yossi ben Yoezer is from the Maccabean period (167–37 BCE). A famous saying of his: “Let thy house be a meeting-place for the wise; powder thyself in the dust of their feet, and drink their words with eagerness.” Ben Baba was a second century (CE) scholar who, surprisingly, made it easier for widows to remarry by lowering the bar for proof of a husband’s death. Eliezer haGadol (the Great) was a student of Yochanan ben Zakai, and one of the best known second century scholars. He was what today might be called a “strict constructionist” in terms of his interpretations of the Jewish law. He was excommunicated from the Sanhedrin, he was charged with heresy by Rome, and yet he is still one of the most mentioned sages in the Mishna.

1200px-Map_of_Qatamon,_1947.pngKatamon and its surroundings, 1947. By The National Library of Israel, edited by Bolter21. – The Eran Laor Cartographic Collection, National Library of Israel, Public Domain,

Moving forward in history, the neighborhood of Mekor Haim (Source of Life) was named after Haim Cohen who donated a lot of money to buy land in Jerusalem. The neighborhood started in 1926 as a tiny isolated village and by 1931, 202 people lived there in 41 houses. The area suffered from Arab sniping during the 1948 War, and there were some fierce battles there as well. After the 1967 War, the Talpiot industrial area was built and Mekor Haim was no longer so isolated.

googlemapSouthern neighborhoods of Jerusalem

As Jerusalem grew, Mekor Haim became limited to just the main street of Mekor Haim and its side streets. To accommodate the Jews from the Old City who were expelled in 1948 and eventually Jews from Arab countries who were expelled from their homelands in the 1950s, Israel built up the neighborhood in what are called by the municipality Gonen 1-9 (in Hebrew letters). Everyone else knows the neighborhood as Katamonim (the plural of Katamon).

Katamon was built around the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Simeon of Katamonas (1881, with evidence of a structure from 1524, today the San Simon Monastery). It had been a Christian Arab neighborhood until 1948. Gonen means defender and the 1949 Armistice line winds along the southern borders of Katamonim.

The vibe of this neighborhood is quite different from my previous neighborhoods, but those stories will have to wait until next week.

(This week was Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. You can read what I wrote last year about Yom HaShoah here.)