The Obvious

Jerusalem, a love note

Posted in life by theobvious on June 19, 2018

I love Jerusalem. Really, I do. The other day I had a meeting in Tel Aviv and took a bus all along Allenby street. Looking out I saw tacky little shops with their dusty plastic merchandise, and felt sad that such were the tastes of the city’s inhabitants. Later on, back in Jerusalem, as I walked relieved down Jaffa street amongst its tacky little shops with dusty plastic merchandise, I of course felt appreciative of the higher standard of culture the country’s capital preserves.

Every year at Passover they say “next year in rebuilt Jerusalem”. This the local population takes quite literally to mean that no structure can be left standing well alone for longer than a week. Wherever you go, they’re building new houses as a side attraction, but mainly it’s tinkering with old ones. There’s always a ladder leaning against every wall, buckets of special Jerusalem paint designed to come on looking pre-scratched, bits and pieces of wood and tin holding on bravely by a crooked nail through one corner.

Oftentimes the repairs are due to the fact that no business remains in business in Jerusalem. Or rather, there are a few things that were est. 1,200 BC by Joshua bin Nun and will remain until the Messiah himself patronizes them, and very many things that change so rapidly that they become a blur. Hey, since when is this place a pizza joint–er, cafe–er, phone accessories stand–er, hair salon–er, was that the Eiffel tower there for a split second? You can’t tell. But when they zoom out of business, they leave behind scraps of their brief existence, so a new falafel kiosk will have some letters from the burger place’s sign, and when it becomes a divorce lawyer’s office, there’ll still be a dancing pita painted on the back wall.

This city, which I love, is not laid back. In Haifa last week, I saw a guy wearing those psychodelic sunglasses, being pushed in his wheelchair towards the seaside promenade by a kid on a neon-lit hoverboard. Here, replace the characters with a pale, browbeaten black-and-white-wearing kid holding on to his grumpy grandfather’s electric scooter, one of those black ones that look like an office chair that’s developed independent motion. Real people, seen this morning. And their doppelgangers, seen every day. As opposed to, say, Tel Aviv’s shirtless population whose average age is 22 and who always look like they’re going to or from the beach, here we have ladies dressed in the latest bodybag fashion, such as the charming creature who stopped me in passing through an orthodox neighborhood and berated me for “walking around here like this”. “Like what?” I asked. “I’m warning you!” she screeched.

Such are the fierce daughters of Zion. Take the mothers here, who are in an ongoing feud with cars. My beloved Jerusalem is renowned for its parking problem. So the Jerusalemites, ever creative, park in any space that is relatively flat and can fit even 3/4 to half a vehicle. And then the mothers are left to rage helplessly as they push their double and triple prams around in the roads. (There was a saying at the zoo when I worked there that the kangaroos are like Jerusalem ladies: a toddler by the skirt, a baby in the pram, and another one always on the way.) They then take their ire to the many Facebook groups of Jerusalem, spewing hatred against every driver in the city and their blatant disregard of the rules. Naturally, when it’s the mothers doing the driving, no rules apply. How dare you. They have children on board.

Those Facebook groups, incidentally, are a key feature in the Jerusalem dynamics. There are a few–Hebrew, English, women’s only, etc.–and apparently they are all secret, so their membership is in the tens of thousands, and every conversation goes something like this: “What time does the zoo close on Saturday?” “Don’t go to the zoo, all zoos torture animals.” “Don’t go on the Holy Sabbath, everyone in Jerusalem must observe the laws of Judaism.” “All I want to know is when they close.” “Damned animal hater, what’s wrong with you?” “Don’t you understand this is holy ground you’re stepping on?” “I’m not even Jewish. When do they close?” “Five, you abhorrent heathen because of whom salvation has not come yet, and make sure you buy a popsicle so you may choke on it.” This is a microcosm of the loving, nurturing conversation going on between the city’s various communities.

The one thing that unites us, here in Israel’s holiest city, is yellow and black. It’s Beitar Jerusalem. Last night in class the teacher tried to give an example of two football teams. He could only come up with Beitar. I saw a bus this morning whose green paintjob was invisible underneath a bunch of yellow banners, stickers, and tape. Ironic, as when there’s a Beitar game that bus is going nowhere. The streets? They are closed. But then, we Jerusalem citizens are used to that: the streets are closed here more often that they’re open, even if we discard the standstill traffic that’s so characteristic of even the city’s largest avenues. Everything for our own good, to promote tourism / health / interfaith friendship / Lord knows what. Marathons, parades, demonstrations, and celebrations abound. We just grumble. We are excellent grumblers here.

The weather is another uniting feature. We have a separate weather website from the rest of the country. In Tel Aviv you know where you stand with the weather, and that’s normally in a puddle of your own sweat mixed with 100% humidity. In Jerusalem, on the other hand, instead of regular weather we have a climate, provided helpfully by the hills and the wind. Your main concerns when setting out somewhere on foot are whether the climb in the heat will kill you, and whether to bring a sweatshirt for the inevitable evening chill (yes).

On paper, Jerusalem is the city of gold, holy to all nations, majestic as it sits among its millenia-old hills, unperturbed by the small nonsense of daily life, carrying on as it always has. In reality, the only things that stay the same here are the tensions and the dust. So much dust. No idea how it gets in, but if you sit in the same spot in the house for a day, you’re bound to need a wipe-down. Maybe it’s the holiness taking physical shape.

I had a dream in which we moved back to the village where we lived a couple years ago. Woke up covered in sweat. Not to live in Jerusalem? Inconceivable.

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