Nahag!!! Um, thank you?

Right after I moved my life back to Jerusalem from Vancouver, B.C., I was getting off a bus in the city and I automatically yelled from the back door, “Todah!”

I was so embarrassed! In Vancouver people shout thanks to the driver before getting off and I had gotten so used to it but it is not at all accepted here.

In Israel you’ll comfortably shout “Nahag!” (Driver!) from the way way back of an accordion bus if he doesn’t open the door for you at a stop, but it’s totally not accepted behaviour to shout thank you here. From the front door it’s fine, but not from the back.

But I do wonder if this could be a step in the right direction.

It would be great if we could make riding the bus in Jerusalem less stressful and then help other Israeli cities make these changes. I’m not talking about whether or not the system is running smoothly. I’m talking about the interpersonal stuff like:

  • How people get on and off the bus, partially because there is always the feeling that the driver will go off without you if you don’t watch out.
  • How passengers  relate to the drivers and visa versa.
  • The importance of the driver not moving until elderly people are sitting.
  • People should make sure to get up for older or handicapped passengers.
  • And drivers should go at speeds that fit the size of the vehicles they’re driving.

Vancouver is the opposite extreme and I don’t want to become that. The bus drivers are so nonchalant that it sometimes feels like you’ll never get to your destination (not to mention the way they stop at main intersections for a few minutes at a time). But it would be great if Jerusalemites started a movement for making the bus experience here more pleasant. I do believe it could work. If I saw some improvement in how people treat each other around the bus experience, I’d be the happiest Jerusalemite around.

Shhh… listen, Jerusalem is still

Stillness in Jerusalem, the ever-bustling centre of the world, is always a welcome visitor. There are certain times in the day, week or year that the city is so still, you’d almost forget it is normally noisy and full of movement.

Sunrise in Jerusalem

See it happening.

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Feel the world coming back to life.

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The birds fly wildly above, the cats await their food from the Jerusalemite feline lovers…

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And the moon considers setting.

When the sun suddenly peeks up over the hills, the day is activated, as if the stillness isn’t there, waiting to happen again, in another 24 hours.

Shabbat in Jerusalem

Even if you go partying in the centre of town on a Friday night, when you walk out the door, the stillness is there. The train isn’t running, taxi drivers are waiting for their next clients, the streets are almost empty. A few cars, no buses, lots of people getting around by foot.

This is the weekly rest for the city that clears the air and the minds, making place for another six days.

Yom Kippur in Jerusalem

Shhh... I'm trying to hear the silence. (Photo by bewinca)

Listen to the silence. (Photo by bewinca)

Ah, the stillness of Jerusalem’s Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, does something to us. Our never-ending city life of movement and noise has allowed us an even deeper appreciation for the moment of peace that Yom Kippur serves us, especially experienced right here in the middle of the normally bustling Jerusalem.

Yom Kippur is by far the most unique day of the year in Jerusalem and probably in all of Israel.

Holocaust Memorial Day and Remembrance Day moments of silence

For a total of four minutes a year, a siren goes off all across the city – well, actually the country – and everyone stops their cars, the buses and walking. We stand for a moment of silence in remembrance. This happens on the day of Holocaust Memorial day for one minute and on Remembrance Day, in the evening for one minute and in the morning for two.

Making sure we stop our lives to give respect to those who lived and died because they were Jews or because they fought for what they believed in, helps us centre our thoughts, making us more aware of what matters.

My soul needs the stillness

I’ve realized through my still Jerusalem experiences that when I don’t have these external catalysts, I am living the opposite of still. My mind is so busy that I can’t allow myself to stop. And that, even though every time I do allow myself a moment of stillness, I experience the wealth of inspiration and health it gives me.

Silence has the power to calibrate us if we let ourselves stop and listen.

A photo essay: A day in my life through Jerusalem’s street names

Jerusalem’s street names constantly remind me that I am engulfed by the history of my people and my city. I’m fascinated by the names and seeing them shapes my day-to-day life here.

Here is a day in my Jerusalem life, based on some of the typical street names I pass on a regular basis. Click on the pictures to see a slideshow with captions explaining the names of each street name:

 

The Ramat Rachel-Talpiot trench of 1949 and other treasures I learned today

During my first day at the National Library of Israel, I skimmed around seven books.

One book I highly recommend is The Routledge Historical Atlas of Jerusalem by Martin Gilbert, Fourth Edition.

Atlas of Jerusalem by Martin Gilbert

The Routledge Historical Atlas of Jerusalem by Martin Gilbert, Fourth Edition

Each photograph in his book tells a fascinating story.

In Gilbert’s book I learned that in October 1948 the way to get from Ramat Rachel to Talpiot was via trench. Wonderful times, those were.

Ramat Rachel to Talpiot October 1948

The trench between Ramat Rachel and Talpiot, Jerusalem neighbourhoods. October, 1949. “The good old days!”

Here is another amazing picture from Gilbert’s book:

A street in Rechavia - Can anyone figure out which street this is?

A street in Rechavia, 1937 – Can anyone figure out which street this is?

This is the kind of book I feel like purchasing since it’s difficult to part with it at the end of the day.

Another book I looked at was the official list of Jerusalem’s street names in 1959, compiled by the Jerusalem Municipality. Just the size of the list makes it clear how much the city has grown since then. Holding this brown, typed book in my hands felt like I was going back to the beginning of time here in divided Jerusalem. Imagine a 10-year-old state. It was just a child!

iriya's list of street names from april 20, 1959

Opening letter to the Iriya’s book listing all Jerusalem streets in alphabetical order. This letter is dated July 8, 1959, written by י. מאראש, מ”מ מזכיר העיר

Here is part of the list:

iriya's list of street names from april 20, 1959 copy of insideBut maybe most exciting of all…

I found out today that one of the books which I found in a Google search but couldn’t find in the library, has been ordered especially for me by my friend Yisrael who is a librarian at the National Library! I feel so special! OK, so they should have the book anyway, but it feels like protexia and I’m sticking to my story.

Thank you, Yisrael!

Beginning to research Jerusalem’s street names at the National Library of Israel

Life in Jerusalem is fascinating. From the people we meet, to the names of the streets, we’re encompassed by history past and present and so much to take in.

And so, how exciting it was to wake up and find I didn’t have Internet in my apartment. I had a list of arduous tasks, including ones connected to job searching and other such exciting things. But instead, I took it as a sign and packed up for my first trip to the National Library of Israel and start dabbling in my latest dream – to write about the street names in Jerusalem.

I'm surrounded by books about Jerusalem!

Surrounded by books about Jerusalem!

I need to go actually continue reading the books (and checking out the ones I ordered to the reading room upstairs) but I’ll just say one more thing.

Even the trip over here was inspiring. Every street announced on the bus’s speaker was the name of a person I know little to nothing about.

Sa’adiya Gaon

Rupin

Diskin

Chaim Hazaz

Eliezer Kaplan

And this is not to mention that almost every street corner in the city is a “square” named after even more people. Just on the way here I saw:

Rechavat Yosef Chakshuri

Kiryat David Ben Gurion

Kiryat Edmond Y. Safra

And at the entrance to Givat Ram campus:

Who were these people? I'm so curious!

Who were these people? I’m so curious!

Who were all these people? Were they extremely influential in Israel’s modern history? What can I learn from them?

We all know that every dream begins with a first blog post. Here is mine and it’s my attempt to make my dream come true.

To live in you is to love you, O Jerusalem

Jerusalem, you are a tough sell as a place to live. It’s one thing to deal with your crowds, the multitude of cultures, the personal safety issues, and the religious turbulence as a tourist. It’s a whole other thing to live inside you, allowing these things to engulf me every single day.

And so, I have always felt a commitment to you but I never really loved you.

Now, three years since my return to you, I’d like to tell you that it wasn’t you. It was me.

Let me explain.

You’re wild. No one can deny this – especially you. You are an in-your-face, livin’-on-the-edge, eastern city. For some, wild is a natural choice. But not for me. It’s just not who I was.

My choice to leave you for Vancouver in 2006 is proof of this.

After a 16 year relationship with you, I was so sick of you that almost everything about you repulsed me. I found you rude, loud and unattractive. I also found that my relationship with you made me extremely claustrophobic. When I noticed that I could barely stand you anymore, I knew it was time to leave.

I needed to choose a new place to live. Although I have a lot of family in New York, the big and rowdy city never felt like an option. It may be in the west – already an improvement over you – but it was still too energetic for my taste.

In the end I chose the peaceful and off-the-map city of Vancouver. Yes, six hundred thousand people have real lives there but, no offense to Vancouver, it’s a place where nothing much happens.

And I loved it.

Falling in love with Vancouver was easy for me. I arrived, saw the ocean, the mountains, the cute homes… I had a few people smile at me on the street, and very quickly I was starry-eyed in love.

I’m sorry, Jerusalem. Vancouver was the first city I ever loved. It was just a perfect fit for me at the time. The chilled ambiance was exactly what the psychologist (me) ordered. Not to mention that a laid-back city meant a laid-back Jewish community and that was also exactly what I needed.

It was a perfect relationship, what can I say.

But no, O Jerusalem, I never forgot thee.

Not because I particularly loved you. But I always hoped I’d end up back here since this is where my family is and something in me felt like I was missing out as long as I wasn’t here.

And so, after two and a half years in Vancouver, I started the six month process of convincing myself to give you another chance. I need you to know that it was actually more terrifying coming back to you than it was leaving you. And that is saying a lot because I was scared as hell when I left you.

Going back to a relationship that didn’t work out the first time felt like a crazy decision. I had been so unhappy in my former life in Jerusalem – who said this time it would be any different? But I just needed to see what it would be like living in you after all the growing up I’d done since I left (and maybe you changed a little too?).

Finally, after dealing with a huge load of fear, I made my decision and I ordered my one-way ticket to Israel.

I gave Vancouver many kisses goodbye. I made sure to see some last places I had missed (like Victoria and Gastown) I told it I still loved it but I had to go away. I cried. My love for the place and the people was palpable.

And then I left… Knowing I may never see it again.

On the last day of the month of Elul 2009, I boarded a plane back to Israel. My El Al flight was packed full with Israelis who had made yeridaand were coming to Israel for the holidays. I sat next to one such man who was excited for me, and slightly jealous, that I was making the leap and giving you another chance.

I arrived in Jerusalem on erev Rosh Hashana. What a perfect day on which to begin a renewed relationship with you. Jerusalem, you were buzzing with holiday preparations. My parents’ home was vibrant and I was surrounded by lots of family members. Despite my jet lag, I helped my mom prepare for the chag, so excited to finally spend it with my family again.

A new year was beginning and I was beginning it with you.

It was such an emotional moment for me. Actually, as I write this to you, I am still extremely emotional about it. I felt like a new life full of opportunity lay before me.

Jerusalem, I did not fall in love with you overnight the way I did with Vancouver. You are a place that someone like me – whose natural choice is not heat, noise and prickles – needs to grow to love.

And now, exactly three years since my return, I see that I am growing to love you. I now struggle through your hot summer days but am absolutely and totally in love with your cool evenings. I am anywhere from uncomfortable to fearful of your Arab inhabitants but I love the feeling of living in a multi-cultural Wild East and I am happy that I am not living in a bubble. I work hard to pay for a small apartment but can’t get over my fortune of living in a cute home in such a pretty and funky neighbourhood. I am proud of my sweet life that is split between work with the most amazing people and after-work with, well, the most amazing people.

I love where east meets west deep inside of you. I stand on Derech Hevron on the Cinematheque bridge and look out to the Old City, the new city and the hills of the Judean Desert… Or I ride the Light Rail on Kvish Echad (actually called 60 Road or Cheyl HaHandasa St.) with all kinds of passengers, and I know that when one chooses a relationship with you, one truly lives on the edge.

It is because of who you are that you are the place where things happen. This is the city with such a long history that one archeologist said that anything found in a dig that is less than 2,000 years old is chucked aside. You are such a wild place that although you are the political centre of Israel, the world just can’t come to terms with who you are, even though it is under Jewish rule that you will always remain a pluralistic, open city for people of all religions.

O Jerusalem, I will always think of Vancouver as a beautiful little corner of the world but you are the real deal for a Jewess like me and you accepted me back with open arms. You are wild, prickly, stony and beautiful. You are welcoming in a way that not everyone can see. But I see it now and I love you for it. I truly do.

The ultra Orthodox community up against abuse and the media

This morning I was so riled up by the events in Jerusalem. Ultra Orthodox woman is arrested for allegedly abusing her son. Major, extremely intense protests by her community (and beyond?) spring up against her arrest. Threats. Burning garbage. Throwing stones. Really horrifying!

I cannot say that it’s easy for me to be understanding about their behavior. But there are a few thoughts that at least keep me a little understanding about their behaviour:

  1. The media is not 100% trust-worthy. It is totally possible that we are not getting the whole story. More so, I read the letter that “the family” of the woman wrote and I don’t see why we should assume they are a bunch of liars. How can I know who is telling the truth?
  2. No one seems to be telling the full truth – neither the media nor the family. Some “facts” don’t sit right with me. For example, in the media’s story, she’s been starving her son for years but he’s also been in the hospital for a long time. How did she get away with this abuse if he was in the hospital? In the family’s story, she’s made out to be the perfect, loving, committed mother. What about the footage (which I haven’t seen)? Sounds simplified at best. You can read the family’s article here (in Hebrew).
  3. The hate. The ultra Orthodox put the rest of us in an extremely difficult position. We are watching a large group of them act in terrible manner, particularly if they call themselves religious. And when they do things that are outright immoral like burning things, causing such destruction and disruption, and even stoning people, it’s the hardest thing in the world to give them the benefit of the doubt. But although their protesting behavior is totally unacceptable, maybe we aren’t being made aware of the real reasons they’re so infuriated.
  4. I have at least one person who I’m very close with, who is ultra Orthodox. In their community they are convinced the mother is innocent. How can I assume that this person who I respect very much is totally wrong? It’s definitely possible but I can’t know, at least not at this point. Also, I can tell you that, spending time with this person, I am almost certain that she gets different treatment when we’re out and about in Israel because of how she dresses. I have been appalled by it, especially since she is such a sweet person. How can people treat her like that just because she is wearing a scarf to cover all her hair?

The Three Weeks

Finally, there is something that has really stuck out for me and even scared me. Right now it is a very important time in the Jewish calendar. It’s the “three weeks.” These weeks start with a fast and end with another fast. The ending fast, Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) is one of the two most important fasts in the Jewish calendar, along with Yom Kippur. It is considered the saddest day in our calendar, commemorating the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem. Tradition says that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sin’at chinam. Baseless hatred. It was destroyed because Jews hated Jews.

Tisha B’Av has been the day on which many calamities have befallen the Jews. It is actually scary. The three weeks and the nine days (which are the last nine days of the three weeks) are considered more dangerous times. Growing up in an Orthodox home, we didn’t swim during this period. We wouldn’t necessarily travel. It was best to stay away from danger. And in order to mourn, we wouldn’t listen to music, eat meat, go to movies, get our hair cut and probably other things too.

I look at what is happening in Jerusalem and I am frightened for the Jewish people. Call me superstitious but I do think that there is something extremely meaningful, in a very scary way, that this is happening specifically during the three weeks (just like the Jews were kicked out of Gush Katif in Gaza the day after Tisha B’Av). We need to think about that and remember that our unity is probably one of the most important things for us to work on. As Jews, each of us (I’m talking about the different groups) is so sure we hold the truth, we hold the key. The ultra Orthodox hold the truth, as far as they’re concerned. The secular Jews feel the same way about themselves. And many other groups act also as if they are the ones who know the real way to be a Jew or an Israeli.

At the same time, we’re terrified someone else, with their supposed truth, is going to force us to act in one way or another that doesn’t fit our beliefs.

I know all this because I feel the same way. But I also know that at the same time, many/most of us also question ourselves incessantly. We are often 100% sure and 100% not sure at the same time. And that is probably where the friction comes in. We cannot take the different opinions.

I believe it’s time for us all to get off our high horses (or make sure we’re all on high horses, if necessary, as long as we all realize we’re “begova einayim” (eye level) to each other) and realize that each of us “groups” obviously does not have all the answers. Each of us obviously does have something to contribute.

And, most of all, we better get our act together and figure out a way not to feel such animosity towards each other because, I hate to say it, but I am scared that we will do ourselves in if we don’t work on this now.