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Four Days Alone in Jerusalem

Photos by Sue Joffe

What a chance to explore some of the places I have had on my list for years. Going up to Jerusalem is in any case a magical experience, and as you will see, this trip was no different. I not only wanted to be on my own, but I wanted to test myself for a more adventurous overseas trip later in the year.

It's become pretty easy to get to Jerusalem these days. You hop on the electric train. One-hour door to door. The train is a new double decker and runs as smooth as silk. As Jerusalem is at an altitude of 2800 feet, the train starts its assent halfway there rising 2.5 degrees, but even so arrives deep underground in Jerusalem with the need to take a lift to the surface.

As you step out of the station, take a breath. The light seems brighter, the air cooler, and people more intense. Most buildings are made with Jerusalem stone which seems to glow in the sunlight. But it's the people who catch one's eye. It seems that everyone has their own dress style which characterizes their religion and way of life.

I could have taken the light rail or tramcar to my hotel, the aptly named Harmony, but to avoid the complexities of map reading, I stepped into a taxi which whisked me there.

View of the Old City

I had chosen the location of my hotel carefully because I wanted to be in the middle of the action. There was a certain tension in the air, because as I arrived a new government was being sworn in, after four elections, and hopefully to last long enough to pass the budget. A coalition of eight parties spanned the whole very wide political spectrum, and the question was – how was it going to stay together with its razor thin majority of 51 to 49, reduced to 50/49 at the last moment. The old guard was already snapping at its heels and a vote of No Confidence was already on the table. We would be able to see immediately how the new order stood up to the heated atmosphere.

After checking in, I decided to go for a walk, with my destination Mahane Yehuda, the Jewish market. As I stepped out, I could see no cars at all. I like to call this a pedestrian mall, busy but quiet traffic free gentrification. Someone was playing an electric violin with a large audience as I moved up Jaffa Road. The market was crowded, but I found the shop I had wanted, and had a delicious lunch of fish and chips and salad. Just everything was on display, you name it. it was there, but especially the huge choice of Turkish delight, humus and spices and nuts, every type of pastry, and masses of delicious looking fruit. The shopkeepers called out their wares, which contributed to the bustling atmosphere. I just loved sitting there and letting the crowds roll by. With a knowing eye you could work out just how religious a person was from their dress, everybody rubbing shoulders in peace.

As the sun set, I wandered into the Music Museum next to my hotel, and beyond it was Music Square, with a stage at one end lit up with a huge electronic backdrop showing a video of Venice and the Greek Islands. The square was filled with occupied tables and chairs which belonged to the various restaurants. I opted for an Italian evening and had a delicious canelloni, my favorite, and a pleasant beer. The music played on and eventually, I got up, turned the corner and dropped into Harmony.

I had already planned for the following day – I was dying to explore the Old City. It was easy to take a right from the hotel, down my pedestrian mall, to Herbert Samuel and then King George, past the King David Hotel and the YMCA, and I had a coffee and pancake right next to the Jaffa Gate in the up-market Mamilla shopping precinct.

The Western Wall

Passing through into the old city, I thought of General Allenby who had ridden this way on horseback in 1917.Almost immediately I had passed the Armenian Quarter and was enveloped by the shop-lined narrow passageways of the Jewish Quarter. I saw a sign for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with another sign for the Via Dolorosa. I was passed by monks, black clad ultra-orthodox Jews, Palestinians with long white robes and keffiyeh. There was a large crowd in the square in front of the church, and the guide was speaking to his flock in hushed Russian tones.I could hardly see when I came inside the church from the bright sunlight. The church dates back to the fourth century plus or minus a few reconstructions.

Outside once more, I made a turn to the left and immediately plunged into the Arab quarter. There was a noticeable difference in the dress of the people, and then I came out into the Jewish Quarter and stopped to rest at a guard post. I entered the Western Wall plaza, which was crammed with people. I did not have a head covering or long trousers, but no one took any notice and I walked right up the Western Wall and laid my hand on the ancient stones. Pieces of paper with messages were crammed between the cracks. The man next to me was in deep prayer. His head and hands were bound with phylacteries and he rocked back and forth. Nearby a barmitzvah was in progress, with the boy reading from a silver wrapped torah while the adoring mother and her friends and relations peered over the barrier which separated them from the men. The ground was littered with sweets which had been thrown at the boy. In order to take in the view, I moved to a higher place and looked back. Here I could see the whole of the wall as well as Mosques Al Aksa and the Golden Dome of the Rock.

The Science Museum is designed specially to teach schoolchildren all the branches of science with hands-on carefully designed displays. I had never been there before and it was a visit I had long relished. Almost next door is the Israel Museum and from its entrance, one can see the Knesset, the Supreme Court and many government offices. The Museum has a vast collection of Egyptology, Jewish history and archeology and wonderful paintings, impressionist, post-impressionist and modern art.

I could not resist a visit to the Islamic Museum the next day as it has a world class display of clocks, an inspiration to any horologist. In the afternoon, I paid a visit to the house of Anna Ticho, an artist born in Czechia who had moved to Jerusalem at a young age and had managed to capture the light and the very earth of her surroundings.

I had done enough during my visit to Jerusalem. I had seen the people, experienced the cool evening breeze, laid my hands on its stones, and found out once again why it is such a Mecca for the world. 

 

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Monday, 18 October 2021

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