Jerusalem of Light

Signs of summer are starting to show up in Jerusalem.  The city put up these fun mini-umbrellas on Yoel Solomon Street.

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Later in the evening I stepped out again to see the mini-light show on the walls of the Old City.

And then I walked through Mamilla on the way home.  And it was crowded!  It seemed to be an equal mix of Jews, Arabs and tourists.

The crowds are worth pointing out.  A week ago, a young police officer was killed by a terrorist at Damascus Gate, a northern gate.  Mamilla is near Jaffa Gate, a western gate.  They aren’t that far apart with only the Christian and Muslim Quarters separating them from each other.  Also, it’s Ramadan.  And yet – it’s nearly 10pm and the streets are full.

Jerusalem is beautiful at night and I’m so glad that our mayor and the city council have made it both possible and aesthetically pleasing to be out and about in the city.  We don’t quake in fear in the face of terrorism.  The minute we do, they win.

Jerusalem is known as the city of light.  And for good reason!

Next week we will host the “Light Festival, Jerusalem,” so expect more pictures of the beautiful walls of the Old City from Zion Gate in the south up to Damascus Gate in the north featuring light installations by artists from all around the world.

It’s my pleasure to be the messenger

As I was walking to the Western Wall this morning it occurred to me that I live in one of the most special places on earth.  The Old City of Jerusalem is just part of my neighborhood, so I often forget to take a moment and enjoy my surroundings.

After a rainy and cold week, the sun was shining this morning.  It was the perfect day to deliver a small note to the Western Wall on behalf of a friend and take the opportunity to say a few words of gratitude for all the blessing I have in my life.

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A note for a friend (the blue-green one)

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Looking up

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Panorama

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Recent excavation at the Western Wall Plaza of a Roman era street

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Tower of David, Jaffa Gate

Oh, Jerusalem

Today is Inauguration Day in the US.  In Israel, it’s just an ordinary Friday.  We’re running our weekly errands and preparing ourselves for Shabbat or other weekend plans.

US voters in Israel tend to vote for the president on one issue and one issue alone: how will the next president relate to Israel.  It’s a variation on the punch line, “yes, but is it good for the Jews?”  This is understandable.  We human beings care about our immediate surroundings, our families, and our close friends.  If it doesn’t affect us personally, then it’s more of an “out there” issue and not an “in here” issue.

Israel, it turns out, has the same opinion.  I ran across a video from Mayor Nir Barkat asking citizens of Jerusalem to welcome President Donald Trump as a friend and to sign a letter supporting the decision to move the US embassy to the undivided capital of Israel, Jerusalem.  I’ve spoken to other Israelis and they agree with our mayor.  I don’t think this is a minority opinion.

(It’s 1 minute and subbed in English.)

As great as Trump may be for Israel, I feel that Israel may be a bit narrow in its view and possibly short-sighted.  Leaving peace negotiations aside and all the problems in the Middle East (yes, I can do that!), if a person is insulting the leadership of other countries, nominating a cabinet that seems to be unqualified for their positions, and is divisive in his own nation – is that person actually good for Israel?

I would have to research it more, but it seems similar to Israel being one of the few countries that had dealings with South Africa at the height of Apartheid when all other countries were boycotting South Africa.  The rationale was that Israel had so few friends in the world.  Is that the case today?  Many, many Israelis would say it absolutely is.

Well, I’m not a political analyst, so I don’t know what will happen.  It remains to be seen.

I still like our mayor – he’s done a lot of great things for Jerusalem – but since I’m already questioning him, I have another complaint.

I don’t drive in Israel.  I have a license, but I don’t enjoy the experience and I live in a place where parking is almost non-existent.  It’s a lifestyle choice.  But this week, I had an unbelievable experience in traffic.

MFA was driving and I’m glad she was and not me.  I don’t know if I could have handled it.  After lunch one day, we got into the car to drive the 5-10 minutes to my house.  We got on a main road and saw that it was clearly rush hour, but still, it was only about a mile, traffic should be moving, right?  Nope.

trafficThis is our route and the traffic situation as I write this post.

This main road runs under the walls of the Old City, so it’s impossible to turn off onto a side street – there are no side streets – so you are stuck.

On the way, in the opposite lane, we saw a guy violently pop his car up on a curb, leave his wife in the car, and forcibly pull another guy out of his van to let him know how much he disliked his driving.  That was tense.  Luckily, they got back into their cars and went on – whew, no fisticuffs.

We finally get to the left turn we need to take and MFA is careful not to block traffic in the intersection too much since we can’t quite get all the way into the next street.  Then we’re stuck there for a good long while.  We move about a foot in 10 or 15 minutes.

A young woman edges up close to us as if she wants to get into our lane.  This seems totally bizarre because there is no reason for her to get into our lane right here and she’s blocking cars behind her as well as merging traffic from the other side. People, including a bus driver, get out of their vehicles to yell at her and she just shrugs her shoulders at them.  Some – who are not blocked by her – are laughing because this girl clearly just doesn’t care at all.

The car in front of us moves a bit and MFA decides to be nice and let the girl in because it should loosen up all the traffic that she’s blocking.  And this girl, this crazy, crazy girl, cuts across the lane to MAKE A U-TURN!!!  She’s blocked by traffic going the other way that won’t let her in.  And at the same time, ANOTHER CRAZY GIRL taps the back of the first girl’s car and swerves around her TO ALSO MAKE A U-TURN!!!

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In our car, we are both screaming.  WTF!!!

When we get to the end of the street we see that many of the problems here stem from double-parked tour buses and people blocking traffic as they try to get into the parking garage.  After we passed the last entrance to the parking garage, there was not a car in sight!  Nothing.  Completely clear roads.

I’m sure I should care about the US Embassy moving to Jerusalem, but to be honest, I think a bigger issue is this stupid traffic and selfish drivers.  Yeah, I probably seem to have narrow vision and may be short-sighted, but I’ll tell you what: When the sun is setting and the colors are changing on the gorgeous walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, I don’t want to feel murderous rage toward my fellow human beings who don’t care at all about anyone else around them.

No matter what Trump’s relationship with Israel is, he’s not going to fix traffic.

Dear Mr. Mayor, I know you need to have vision and see the big picture, but I’m too embarrassed about this traffic situation to want anyone to visit, much less move the embassy!!  Fix this first!!

Dire Straits Experience in the Sultan’s Pool

This week I had the absolute pleasure of seeing the Dire Straits Experience at the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem (with thanks to my friend LC for suggesting it).

I didn’t remember all the songs (and to be fair, I’m not a die-hard Dire Straits fan). But the Mark Knopfler feel was there – the voice, the guitar solos, the unique style.  One of the members of the Dire Straits Experience was in Dire Straits and mentioned that the last time he was in Jerusalem was in 1985 and he was so glad to be back in this special city.

The last time I saw a concert in the Sultan’s Pool was also in 1985.  I went with my cousin to see a popular Israeli band, Mashina.  I was so impressed that my aunt bought me the record (and yes, I do mean the LP vinyl black round thing you play on a record player).  There was a US kids group too, but I don’t remember anything about them.  Most everyone was there to see Mashina.

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We don’t get a lot of big names in Jerusalem.  We only just upgraded our stadium, but I’m not sure anyone really wants to play in it because Jerusalem is complicated.  Louis C.K. recently came to Jerusalem for a show, but his comedy tends to be complicated and we have a lot more native English speakers in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv.

We have more small venues.  One of the best is the Sultan’s Pool.  In ancient times, it was a reservoir and in fact, an arch with a faucet and an inscription in Arabic still stands to remind us of the history.  Now it’s an open-air amphitheater under the walls of the Old City.

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Between ancient times and modern times, or more specifically, between 1948 and 1967, the Sultan’s Pool was no-man’s-land.  Jordanian snipers sat on the walls of the Old City and guarded the border that ran through the valley.

I think it’s interesting that the Sultan’s Pool is the top of the valley called Guy Ben Hinnom.  Slurring the words together you get the vocalization of “gehinom” or the Jewish equivalent of purgatory.  The Bible mentions the valley (guy) of Ben Hinnom as a place of child sacrifice (II Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31 and 32:35).  And yes, from 1948 to 1967, the border (aka the Green Line) ran through this valley.

The saxophonist, who had played with Dire Straits in Jerusalem in 1985, mentioned that they’ve played in many different countries in a variety of political situations, but it was music that brought everyone together.  And he’s right.  Today, we’ve turned the no-man’s-land gehinom into a valley filled with music.

Here’s a video of a few collected clips that I took at the concert.  The quality isn’t great, but it gives you the experience of the Experience.  At the very end, I passed a street musician – a haredi guitarist – and it sounded like he had been inspired by the concert.

I was far away from the stage – and now I’m a little bit sad that they didn’t play “So Far Away.”

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Concerts today – pictures of people taking pictures/video with their phones!

Still the light show was fun!  The noise curfew is at 11:00pm and so after 2.5 hours, we said Good Night to the Dire Straits Experience.

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“So Far Away” – Dire Straits

“Next Year in Jerusalem!”

next year in jlemFor Passover in 2001, I was in Israel volunteering at Kibbutz Maagan Michael and I had an invitation to a Passover Seder in Jerusalem.  I think for most people, they just say “Next Year in Jerusalem!” at the end of the Seder as part of tradition with no intention whatsoever of being in Jerusalem the next year.  For me, it had long been my secret wish to have Passover in Jerusalem.  It was less a Zionist imperative and more “I’ve been saying it for years and now I’m going to do it!”  And wouldn’t it be amazing to fulfill that dream?

So here it is April 2001 and I am actually going to be in Jerusalem for the Seder.  This is it!  Dream fulfilled!  I came to Jerusalem for the Shabbat before Passover – known as Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Shabbat).  On Saturday, I had lunch in the home of a religious family who lived in the Old City.  The family spoke very little English and my friend and I were there only there to meet the son (a friend of my friend, both of them were named Yair, which was a little confusing) who was going to walk with us around the Jewish quarter and take us to the Western Wall.  We hadn’t actually planned to have lunch, but our timing was a little off and they were just sitting down, so they invited us to join them.  So with my extremely limited knowledge of Hebrew, I listened to the conversation and the prayers and found that I could pick out a few words.  One of the phrases I remember hearing is Shabbat HaGadol.

There were at least eight of us at the lunch.  The food was excellent and filling.  The conversation flowed in Hebrew, and the two Yairs filled in some of the gaps for me.  And then it happened.  The idea of fulfilling my secret wish, actually being at the center of Judaism here in the Old City, and sitting at a Shabbat lunch surrounded by Hebrew simply overwhelmed me.  My eyes welled with tears.  And then one slipped out and rolled down my cheek.  I was embarrassed, but after the first one, there’s really no stopping them.  I wasn’t crying exactly.  It was really more like my emotional cup was overflowing and it came out of eyes in salty tears.

The family and my friends sitting around the table let it happen like it was the most normal thing in the world, as if everyone who comes to Shabbat lunch on Shabbat HaGadol leaks tears all over the table.  The embarrassment was my own, but it only lasted a short while, because no one seemed to mind.  They noticed, but saw that it was because I was washed over with emotion, not because I was sad.  I did explain afterwards through translation that it was because sitting there in that moment represented a secret wish fulfilled.  It was next year and I was in Jerusalem!

The story of my tears became sort of a legend in the family.  I spent other holidays with them – without all the tears.  But they always remembered that I was the one who cried at their table and by the next Passover, I had turned my life inside out and upside down and moved to Israel.