Thursday, January 31, 2008 – Jerusalem
I confess that today’s highlight for me occurred during some private time with Michelle. Taking off for lunch, we wandered up King David Street, seeking out somewhere to sit and eat. We intended to locate a comfortable café to relive our year-in-Israel experiences of sitting with friends for hours over coffee/tea. A passerby recommended the restaurant Rosemary, which turned out to be a quaint. The onion soup was heavenly; the tuna bagel toast tasty. Multiple cups of tea eem nana (tea with mint leaves) while looking out on a snow covered patio brought back so many memories and created new ones. A quick stroll hand-in-hand through Liberty Bell park, catching kids in the act of building snowmen, brought us smiles. A cup of coffee and a melting chocolate soufflé at Café Joe’s on the corner was divine. This is Israel as we remembered her!
“I’m dreaming of a white Shabbas.” The city of Jerusalem is covered with snow. Slush too, but gorgeous white snow. Buildings, churches, Citadel David, HUC, the Old City walls – all white washed with snow. It is slightly jarring for our group who did not come prepared for the wet streets, and are suffering through courageously with wet feet and sopping pants. We take plastic bags and cover our feet. They cover the outside of their shoes, wrapping it around their legs. We opt to place the plastic bags over our socks but inside our shoes, on the idea that while our shoes will definitely get wet, our feet will remain dry. Our method turns out to be prescient. In less than a half hour, most people are dealing with wet feet. I took a short photo essay on plastic bag shoe style. The experience reminds me of the different styles of kippah and black coats that differentiate the groups of Chassidim.
The snow covered city is so beautiful to Michelle and me. Neither of us has ever seen such snow in Jerusalem in any of our 14 trips. We watch families make snowmen; yeshiva bochers have snowball fights. One kippah covered man runs through the Old City carrying a sled.
We exit the hotel and walk our way to the Old City. Pictures galore at the Jaffa Gate and looking up to Citadel David. Through the Armenian Quarter into the Jewish Quarter down to the Kotel. I found the kotel underwhelming spiritually, perhaps because it has become a patriarchal, separate-but-not-equal, Orthodox synagogue. [I prefer the Southern Walls these days.] It was cool, though, to see the Kotel plaza covered with snow.
We heard from an Israeli-Arab journalist (his dad was a Jerusalem Arab; mother was a Palestinian Arab from West Bank) who writes for the Jerusalem Post (as well as USA today and Wall Street Journal). I forget his name at the moment… His thought-provoking was engaging. I was particularly taken with his point about the USA/world promoting democratic elections and then overtly subverting the results (not merely boycotting Hamas but also providing money and weapons to Abbas and the PLO. He did characterize the elections – both of Abbas and recently of Hamas – as promising since in each case the victor was elected based on promises to clean up corruption and create democratic institutions. His admission that the PA (and the PLO before) did not change the quality of life for the average Palestinian was honest; that neither offers freedom of the press was depressing. He saw the efforts by the US to undermine Hamas as playing into the hands of Hamas. It has pushed the “street” further into Hamas’ hands since they can argue that their lack of change is a result of the US/world boycott. This was a very thought-provoking presentation.
We toured the Kotel tunnels in the late afternoon. School bus size stones amazed us; figuring out how the builders put them in place was a mystery. Perhaps the most moving moment came at the end of the tunnel when we were standing on stones from the Herodian colonnade, a walkway used by our ancestors some 2,000 years ago. We were walking in the footsteps of our ancestors. Wow!
Dinner at Beit Ticho, a delicious meal. Our niece Yonina, a “chayelet bodeda, lonely soldier (one without family in Israel) got special permission to leave her base to visit with us. She arrived at the restaurant in full uniform and, “dancing for her dinner,” shared stories about her decision to make aliyah, her experience in Israel, her training as a tank instructor, and her course in officer’s training. She was confident and articulate. Of course, this comes from her experience training groups of soldiers how to shoot from tanks. This little soldier niece still inspires me!