In one week I’ll be making my way to Ben-Gurion Airport for a direct flight from Tel Aviv to Chicago. I don’t feel like I’ve been here very long, for Israel deserves a good long stay. So be it; perhaps I’ll return some day.
I arrived in Jerusalem early yesterday in time for a long tour of the Old City given by Anna (not Krylov), an Anna who works at MEMRI and was accompanied by her Italian father Roberto (her mother is Moroccan). Anna also happens to be the mother of THE ORIGINAL HILI, a Hili born here about fifteen years ago. Yes, the cat is named after an Israeli girl (Malgorzata knows the family), and I now have met both Hilis! (Pardon me if I leave out a few “e”s, as that key is sticking on my computer and it’s the most common letter in the English alphabet.)
So here are some photos and descriptions from yesterday, with a few from the two days before in Tel Aviv.
On Tuesday I tried to find the Art Museum in Tel Aviv, which supposedly had a good collection of Impressionists and post-Impressionists. On the map it looked like an hour’s walk or so, and I thought I’d hoof it, getting a good look at Tel Aviv.
It turned out that it was not only miles away, but also bloody hot and humid. I walked for three hours there and back in the broiling heat, asking people on the way, and I never found the Museum. Many people didn’t understand my question, and I was too bloody stubborn to get a cab. At the approximate location of the Cezannes, I found this:
I was NOT happy. Still stubborn, I decided to find my way back to the hotel, even though I was lost, by heading north. I finally recognized a falafel-seller I asked on the way there, and knew I was heading in the right direction. Then I noticed that I was very, very, thirsty and couldn’t walk well. I was severely dehydrated. When I finally got back to the hotel, I drank a liter of water and took my picture, soaked with sweat, in the mirror:
I took off all my clothes, which were drenched with sweat, threw them on the floor of the shower, and stood underneath the water, soaping myself and the clothes until we all we all were clean. I then lay down on the bed; it took me two hours to recover. Oy!
But Wednesday four of us went out for more hummus; same place as before:
I was happy to return to Jerusalem yesterday morning, as, truth be told, Tel Aviv, secular and sea-washed as it is, is also somewhat boring: modern, without Jerusalem’s color, charm, and historical interest. And I didn’t see an ultraorthodox Jew the whole time!
Back in Jerusalem, the city is on high alert as the holidays begin. Terrorists like to attack on Jewish holidays, so the whole town is full of the IDF, cops and bomb-sniffing dogs:
Below: a Lion of Judah in front of City Hall outside the Old City. From Wikipedia:
The Lion of Judah (Hebrew: אריה יהודה, Aryeh Yehudah) is a Jewish national and cultural symbol, traditionally regarded as the symbol of the tribe of Judah. The association between the Judahites and the lion can first be found in the blessing given by Jacob to his fourth son, Judah, in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible
We entered the city through the Damascus Gate, which, I’m told, is one of the prime spots for Jews to get stabbed in the Old City:
Armenians are famous for their ceramics, and they’re all over the Old City, which has an Armenian Quarter.
But we were in the Christian Quarter, and returned to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site for Christians in the world, as it’s supposed to be the place where Jesus was crucified, laid out, buried, and was resurrected. (See my earlier post on this.) It contains the last four Stations of The Cross.
Where Jesus was said to have been crucified. There’s a stone on the site that people touch:
Jesus kitsch is for sale everywhere:
. . . and two Holy Moggies in the church courtyard:
The famous Via Dolorosa is the short route said to have been traveled by Jesus while toting the Cross. It has are 14 Stations of the Cross, each marked with what happened there (dropping the Cross, getting face wiped, etc.) Here are a couple; first, the list, which doesn’t correspond to the numbers below:
- Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane;
- Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested;
- Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin;
- Jesus is denied by Peter 3 times;
- Jesus is judged by Pilate;
- Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns;
- Jesus takes up his cross;
- Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross;
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem;
- Jesus is crucified;
- Jesus promises his kingdom to the repentant thief;
- Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other;
- Jesus dies on the cross; and
- Jesus is laid in the tomb.
Through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall again. The non-touristy part of the Muslim Quarter has nice things for sale. Here’s some dried yogurt that is used like cheese.
Spices. The big towers are thyme:
Meat (not pig):
A pastry store. Baklava is my favorite. Anna bought me an assortment, which was fantastic. Prices are by the kilo:
I had a freshly baked bread, called manaqish, made with the thyme mixture shown above. It was terrific:
Grapes were a hot seller in the Muslim Quarter:
The Old City, including the Muslim Quarter, was full of Jewish cops and the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces—the Army) anticipating trouble over the holidays:
When I asked if I could photograph them, they not only agreed but posed. All Israelis save the ultra-Orthodox serve in the IDF: men for three years, women for two (I’m told that’s to give them an extra year to have babies if they want):
Anna is fond of a lovely place of respite in the old city: the Austrian Hospice, at once a church, a restaurant, an Austrian cultural center, and a place to view the Old City from the roof.
We had schnitzel (chicken) and Sachertorte for lunch! Best Sachertorte I’ve had outside Vienna.
There’s a great view of the Old City from the roof (click panorama to enlarge). The Dome of the Rock with its golden shrine is to the lef
On to the Western Wall: the only part of the Temple Mount where Jews are allowed to pray. And pray they do!
I wore a yarmulke this time: you take it from a box and then return it.
The Wall area was full of Haredi Jews davening (rocking) as they prayed, kissing the Wall, and inserting written prayers into the cracks. (I didn’t pray, of course, but my Jewish DNA draws me here to see this cultural phenomenon.)
A cop joins in, tallis, tefillin, yarmulke and the whole getup:
Imagine wearing this all-black outfit, including a heavy hat, in this heat! Now THAT is faith!
The prayer notes, when they eventually fall out, are put inside the casket of the latest Jew buried on the nearby Mount of Olives:
Santa, but a Muslim one:
In fact, Santa (AKA Issa Kassissieh) was the captain of the Palestinian basketball team and now plays Santa every year at Christmas: the whole megillah:
In Jerusalem’s Old City there are dozens of churches, but as Christmas beckons there is just one Santa Claus — a towering Palestinian former basketball player.
Each December, the streets sparkle green and red as Christian pilgrims and others arrive to celebrate Christmas.
Seven years ago, one resident, Issa Kassissieh, transformed the ground floor of his 700-year-old home into a grotto, complete with candy, mulled wine and a chance to sit on Santa’s lap.
Welcoming the season’s first visitors to Santa House, the red-suited and bearded Kassissieh belted out a “Ho, ho, ho!” at families queueing to see him.
. . . While Jerusalem is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians believe contains Jesus’s tomb, the Nativity story of his birth happened in nearby Bethlehem, according to the faithful.
But at Santa House, Kassissieh said his young visitors have more modern concerns.
“Every child asks me for an iPhone,” he chuckled. “I never promise anything, but I say: ‘Let’s pray, and if you’re on my good list, you will get it.’”
Only in Jerusalem can a Palestinian dressed as Santa let kids sit on his lap and ask for iPhones. And you ask me why I prefer Jerusalem to Tel Aviv!
Still, of course, all is not peaches and cream here. The city is a symbol of religious hatred, and you can see its remnants everywhere. Here’s the Municipal Building, which between 1948 and 1967 stood on the dividing line between West Jerusalem (Israel) and East Jerusalem (part of Jordan). Israel captured the Old City during the Six Day War in 1967. But you can still see the bullet holes in the Municipal Building reflecting that 19 years of conflict:
In the lower part of the building you can see this sign, which marks the site of a terrorist attack against Israelis. Sadly, there are many of these signs throughout the city. I can’t read Hebrew, but if you do please translate it in the comments: