Wednesday, January 30, 2019

People of Jerusalem 2019

People of Jerusalem
January 30, 2019

From December 30, 2018 to January 13, 2019 I visited Israel.  This was just a normal vacation, not a “trip of a lifetime.”  I wanted to visit people and places that I was both familiar with and not.  I didn’t go on a tour bus with a tour guide or even behave like a tourist.  I just made my own plans.  Before I left, I arranged visits to libraries to meet with librarians.  That will be a separate report.  This article will just cover some of the people I encountered in my travels.  Please take these as amusing or interesting people.  I don’t mean to “make fun” or demean anyone.

To start I present a picture of myself -- while I’m not a wild and crazy guy, I am not shy.  Here I am standing next to the Kotel. No matter how many times I visit, no matter how much I learn about the excavations, no matter how much history I read about Jerusalem, I am still moved by just being there.  When I was growing up, the Jordanians didn’t let Jews visit.  I thought we would never be able to be there.  Then the Six Day War came, and we heard, “the Kotel is ours.”  Even though most of the stones are from Herod and after, the connection to the original Temple can still be found everywhere.  Some excavations even found the remains of burnt wood from the destruction.

The Kotel is place of contrasts. Here is a picture of me and the next picture is a man looking on his cell phone with people praying in the background. Tourists, residents, and Israelis from all over flock there. In addition to the majesty of the wall itself, on can enter the tunnel and be part of a regular or ad hoc prayer group.  This is picture of places for prayer with an aron hakodesh to hold Torah scrolls. The Western Wall Foundation has walking and virtual tours for the public to see areas not available to the unaccompanied public.

One can see people from all over the world.  The groups from such as Japan, China, and Africa can be seen intently listening to the words of their guides. Tourists who speak English or Hebrew don’t seem to pay as close attention. That is not all members of the group are listening at a given moment.  I saw several groups of blacks wearing the same green hats and backpack with the logo of the tour or travel agency.  Some of the group wore outfits made from the same cloth that was brightly colored in patterns that no one outside their group would ever wear.  The styles of the clothes were not the same.   I later learned that tour operators provided the cloth.  I talked with one of the tourists who told me he was Nigeria.  He took a selfie with me.

One evening the Kotel was full of soldiers and their families.  The soldiers were there for their basic training graduation.  I didn’t see the ceremony, but I saw the preparations and people walking to the Kotel.  Other days I saw bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies.  At one time, musicians played as the family went to the Kotel.  The residents of the Jewish Quarter complained about the noise and commotion and now the processions are quieter and avoid being near homes where people live.

I got very familiar with Jaffa Gate (שער יפו.)  One day I was proud to help an Israeli who asked in Hebrew where is the Jaffa Gate.  I just pointed and said ישער (straight ahead).  Another day I was startled when an Arab businessman asked in German, “Wie Gehts?  I just couldn’t spit out the proper response, “Es geht mir gut.”  I was only able answer in Hebrew.

The #38 bus serves the Jewish Quarter with an 18-passenger bus.  The route is circular route that starts and end at the same stop.  I never ceased to be amused when the announcement at the end reminded everyone to take their belongings and thanked everyone for choosing Egged. (As if we had another choice.)  Egged is not the only bus company, but there is no competition on individual routes. Most of the time riding that bus was like riding with friends. A man with a heavy accent asked his neighbor in Hebrew-Yiddish, איך אומרים וואסר?  (How do you say “water?”)  This in heavily accented English, he asked, “Does anyone have water?  My daughter needs water.”  Right away two people offered a bottle of water.  He paused then replied, “Do you have a cup?” The daughter didn’t seem to really need the water.  It seemed like a comedy routine from 40 or 50 years ago.

While waiting for the #38 bus near City Hall, a woman with two shopping carts asked in English, “Which direction is the Kotel?”  I pointed her in the right direction I surmised was correct based on the city walls.  She took out her ArtScroll siddur and started reading a prayer in English.  When the bus came she struggled to get on. When we got on the bus, the person next to me said that he was familiar with her.

When I went to the Israel Museum I saw a tour scheduled for the Judaica collection at 12:30 and decided to take it.  I was the only one who showed up and so I had a personal tour.  There is an exhibit of life cycle events with wedding dresses from Jews in Arab countries. They are very colorful.  The tour guide said that Queen Victoria was the style setter for white wedding gowns.  I had no idea that she could cause such a revolution.  I thought the only clothes she influenced was the wearing of neck ties because she though shirt buttons reminded her of belly buttons.  Of course, I had to check.  The tour of guide was right.  Before Queen Victoria brides dressed in colors or even blacks and grays.

The next picture is the Shrine of the Book on the grounds of the Israel Museum.  This is building houses the story and documents of the Dead Sea scrolls.  Once it held the Isaiah scroll, but now it features a replica.  This very quiet place[1] is a shrine to the whole concept of a book, writing and history connected to what makes us a literate civilization. People connected to books, readers, librarians, students, scholars, etc. should visit and be impressed and humbled at how far communications has advanced.  We can still read writing that was done 2000 or more years ago.


My cousin, the tour guide, told me to visit the Gush Katif Museum ( .  Gush Katif was the Israeli settlement area of the Gaza Strip. In August 2005 the Israeli army carried out the government orders to remove all settlers and bull doze the homes and institutions of the settlements. About 8,600 residents lived there who were mostly religious Zionists, but also included some secular Jews and several hundred Bedouins. Most of the economy was based on agriculture.  Many had lived there more than 20 years. They had advanced technology greenhouses to raise pest-free vegetables. Exports to Europe were over $60 million a year according to what the museum stated.  The museum is on a small street, Sha’are Zedek in a remodeled apartment. It is a little hard to find.  For most of my visit I was the only one there.  The guide/caretaker was very friendly and helpful.  He told me about the exhibits and settlements.  This was a very sad place to visit.  I saw a video about the expulsion that showed lots of people crying.  Residents did not want to leave. This is a place to learn about a sad time in history, not a place for fun.  The guide said that few if any former Gush Katif residents live in the Jerusalem area. The museum is a place to remember the people and places they lived.

Here is a picture of the Gush Katif street sign and the bus stop.

Signs claim Kikar Zion (Zion Square) is place for street entertainment and food.  Twice I went to restaurants there for a meal.   Here is a picture of street musician.  She had a violin and recorded accompaniment.  There are two car batteries under her feet to supply power to her amplifier.  While a passerby wanted a selfie with her, I took this picture of both. This was January and so they are dressed for the weather. At other times I saw dance groups and other musicians.  They all come well prepared. 

Most of the people I saw were very nice and polite.  When I asked for directions people were helpful and when I was able to help people were appreciative.  I had to visit the office of Rav-Kav to get a bus pass.  Another customer was English speaking and the clerks needed help to get him to understand.  I helped.  On a bus some tourists who didn’t know Hebrew couldn’t understand the bus driver.  He yelled, “Mi midabar anglit?” (“Anyone speak English?”)  Before I could react, the person in the first seat behind the driver spoke up and helped.

When I visited the National Library some high school students were taking a survey.  They asked me questions about Trump and his policies.  I really had no idea of what to say. I had no opinion on the topics they questioned. On a bus to Beter Illit there were no seats left.  A man put his youngster on his lap so that I had a place to sit.  When using the Israel Railways[2] there were lots of employees helping people navigate the station and get to the right place.

The parts of Jerusalem that I visited were very busy with cars, trucks, pedestrians, buses, etc.  It is much more congested than my quiet Chicago neighborhood[3]. In Israel one feels part of history and a great big family; in Chicago one feels that the city is just a place that we live.

[1] Talking is limited here.

[2] Before going to Israel, I wanted to ride the high-speed train between Jerusalem and Ben Gurion Airport.  The train is beautiful, and ride is smooth and fast.  One hardly hears the sound of the tracks.  We need such great service in Chicago. Given a choice between a train and bus, I always choose the train.

[3] “Congestion” is relative. Jerusalem has about 875,000 residents and probably more than 100,00 visitors. The average population density for Jerusalem is about 19,000 people per square mile.  For my neighborhood of Chicago with about 72,000 residents in 3.53 sp. miles, the population density is 20,632 per square mile.  For all of Chicago the density is 11.602 persons per square mile.