Category Archives: Jerusalem

one city, three worlds…

the city i refer to is jerusalem.
i’ve been thinking about this city recently, and i think there are at least three worlds somehow coexisting here – definitely not peacefully, but coexisting nonetheless.

first, there is the city i most identify with – secular (or at least not super-religious) west jerusalem. this is where i live, where i seek out culture and nightlife, where i run in the mornings, where i do my grocery shopping, where i meet my friends.

but recently i’ve been discovering east jerusalem – part of the same city, yet an entirely different world. a world where i hear arabic rather than hebrew, and where i have plenty of opportunities to practice my arabic – at a coffee shop, at the shuk, or asking directions. believe it or not, despite having lived here for more than two years (at different points in my life), i am only just now discovering this ‘world’ in jerusalem. it’s got an entirely different vibe than the west side of town, and no, i don’t feel like i am going to get shot when i am there (not that i’ve spent that much time there). i was talking with a friend the other day, though, and we were discussing the fact that as jewish israelis we’ve somehow been taught (indirectly and directly) that we shouldn’t go to this side of town because it is dangerous/unsafe/bad/all of the above. it’s been an interesting challenge for me over the past few weeks to try to break this mindset somewhat. i can’t say i’ve totally succeeded, but i am definitely feeling more comfortable in the christian/muslim/armenian quarters of the old city. (and no, i haven’t ventured deep into east jerusalem beyond that). it’s made me think quite a bit about the way we’re taught to see the world and how this differs so greatly depending on what side of the line we grow up on – in israel, and elsewhere. and how much of what we’re taught is reality, and how much of it is not.


i mentioned three worlds. the third world, and, quite honestly, the one i least understand, is the world of the ultra-othodox jews (both in east and west jerusalem). this world has been crashing into my world the last few days – the haredi (ultra-orthodox) community instigated a series of violent riots throughout the city in response to the arrest of a mother accused of starving her son. the riots have been blocking major thoroughfares in the city, which is a major pain, but my morning commute is nothing compared to the fact that they’ve been setting fires, vandalizing traffic lights, and clashing violently with the police. this is in additon to the ongoing demonstrations that have been held in protest against the opening of a parking lot near the old city on shabbat…
i like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded person, ready to hear the views of almost everyone, but this has really thrown me for a loop. who are these people? what in the world are they thinking? and why are none of their leaders telling them to stop?? sheesh.

like i said, one city, three worlds. it’s definitely an interesting place…


quick comments

i’m working through photos of my trip this weekend and from around jerusalem – they will be posted soon. before that, though, a few quick tidbits of information from the holy land:

– israel had a ‘first’ this past week with the round 1 draft pick of an israeli basketball player to the NBA. Omri Kaspi was the #23 draft pick, by the Sacramento Kings (aren’t you impressed that i know this???)
– vending machines here are taken to a whole new level. in addition to machines selling coffee, soft drinks, and snacks, yesterday i saw a vending machine for…french fries. comes complete with 2 packets of ketchup and 1 salt packet. craziness.
– how often do you see an archeological dig on your way to school/work? today on the bus, as i passed by the walls of the old city, i looked out the window at the work that is being done to construct the new light rail in jerusalem, and saw not one, but two sites labeled “archeological dig.” just goes to show you – – people have lived here for so many thousands of years that you can’t dig anywhere without discovering the artifacts of a past civilization.

i started my arabic class today. it was enjoyable, but HARD. in the last 6 years i’ve forgotten much of the arabic i studied before that…well, here’s my chance to get it back!

it’s a small world…

as a follow up to what i wrote a few days ago regarding israeli warmth and willingness to help/make connections, here is a short excerpt from a conversation i had last night with my mom’s cousin (roughly synthesized and translated from the hebrew):

cousin: so, what exactly is your doctorate about?
me: [something about israeli jews and arabs, education, etc…]
cousin: oh, you know, my husband’s son is involved with something in that area.
me: really?
cousin: yes, he’s finishing up his PhD and he also works for an organization that is involved in bringing israelis and palestinians together…
me: oh, what’s the name of the organization? i’m familiar with many of the ones here.
cousin: i don’t remember.
my aunt: well, what’s his name?
cousin: [names name]
me: oh! he and i have been emailing! we’re supposed to meet soon!

this person, who i reached via an israeli friend in bloomington, happens to be my mother’s cousin’s stepson. so typical for this country…

so, in any case – – i write this post from the apartment i’ll be living in for the next month. it’s located in the German Colony [in Jerusalem], a nice little residential/commercial neighborhood not too far from the city center. my apartment is located on a small side street off of the main drag. it’s nice to feel like i’m somewhat settled, and it’s wonderful to be back in Jerusalem – it’s been 15 years since i lived here. just walking home tonight, after meeting a few of my cousins for dinner, made me smile.

for those of you who have asked – i promise to post some pictures soon! i suppose that will require me to take some first 🙂

israeli snapshots…

well, i’ve been here about 48 hours – – long enough to have several amusing anecdotes to relate which will give those of you without much knowledge of this place some insight into the israeli psyche.

yesterday morning began with a bus ride to jerusalem, which for me is always a good way to catch up on the latest sign-age, since political slogans seem to be posted anywhere and everywhere they might be seen. yesterday was no different – among the most interesting was one rougly translating as, “if there’s removal [of settlements], there’s no government” (it rhymes in hebrew – definitely a catchier slogan in that language), and a poster depicting Barack Obama wearing a keffiyeh in the style of Yassir Arafat, with the words – in hebrew and english – “jew hater, anti-semite.” nice, eh? oh, and a poster – posted all around jerusalem as well as on the way – urging “bibi [prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname] – protect our country!!!” no slogans from the political left, though.

i’m not sure how long these posters have been posted, but my guess is that they are a response to the broader situation in Israel since Obama and Netanyahu took office, as well as more specifically to Obama’s speech in Cairo on June 4th and the response given in the form of a speech by Netanyahu just a few days ago, on the 14th. Netanyahu’s speech has been all over the news since i arrived here, as well – there is lots of discussion about whether his speech actually was a step forward, whether it was just verbal maneuvering, etc. etc. personally, i don’t really know. but it’s interesting to note that among the people i have spoken with, most of the ones who are here within israel think that Netanyahu’s words actually meant something, while those who are elsewhere in the world are pretty dismissive. i wonder what that means…

anyway, that’s it for the posters. now for a snapshot of what i saw when i got to jerusalem’s central bus station: soldiers with M-16s, muslim women with head scarves, secular israelis – fairly scantily clad females, in particular, orthodox jews of every shape and form (american, modern orthodox jews in their fashionable just-below-the-knee skirts; hassidic jewish men in all black…you name them, they were there). and that was just in the bus station! that snapshot was repeated all throughout the city, not to mention today during my trip to jaffa [just south of tel aviv] – – although with fewer hassidic jews there.

in any case, i spent the day in various parts of jerusalem, had my first arabic lesson, and checked out the apartment i will be living in as of next week. all in all a successful trip, i would say. it was followed today by a couple of dissertation-related meetings, one of which depressed me immensely, while the other renewed my faith in both academia and the potential for social change here in israel. but that’s for another blog post…

for now, let me end with one last anecdote that for me captures perfectly a certain segment of israeli society: i was sitting on the bus back from jaffa when a woman got on with a small child in a stroller – he was probably about 1 and a half or 2. the boy seemed to be in a pretty good mood, but periodically let out some really loud yells. to be expected, right? anyway, a few minutes after this boy and his care-giver got on the bus, an older man boarded as well, and was standing immediately behind them. the first time the boy opened his mouth and yelled, the older man screamed at him “be quiet!!!”, to the astonishment of the boy’s care-giver (and several others on the bus, including myself). the boy and his care-giver got off at the next stop, and the man, far from being embarrassed at his outburst, proceeded to lecture anyone who was listening about the need for quiet on public buses. seriously. makes you wish you were here, eh?