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Ok, I’ve been procrastinating long enough and should probably contribute a few words to the overwhelming amount of ink (and blood, but that’s outta my scope today) that has been spilt on Jerusalem. It’s been more than 5 months since I was there, so maybe I will be able to refrain a little bit from my usual verbose self. Than again, maybe not, since I haven’t written in awhile and I am trying my darnest to procrastinate from studying for this hematology/immunology exam. I know, I know, I’ve been back for months and this isn’t even the last post on the FIRST country I went to. Whatever, med school isn’t a complete cakewalk ok?
Anyways, whatever day it was after we visited Masada/the Dead Sea/Ein Gedi, Dan and I drove ourselves up to Jerusalem. It was a very smooth ride, and gave me a brief glimpse of the Israeli hinterlands that most tourist probably only catch from the plane. Not that driving pass on the highway gave me many profound insights, but it was certainly interesting to see the landscape grow gradually more vibrant the further north we traveled. I was also surprised by the breadth/depth of agriculture all around. I guess it’s not too easy for Israel to import much from the surrounding countries. The Judean Hills, in particular, were quite eye-opening. The change in topography from flat coastal plains to steep and heavily wooded hillsides was rather unexpected. Israel had a much more varied climate than I expected, especially over such a small geographical area. The other thing that stood out, and still stands out, to me is the organization of the communities and the prevalence of planned settlements rather than organic towns even in the wholly Jewish controlled areas. It was also strange for me to hear Arab communities consistently referred to as “villages” even if they clearly have many characteristic of modern urban developments/infrastructures. On the other hand, Jewish communities were always “settlements” or “towns”.
We were planning to stay with Dan’s friend/ex-girlfriend from high school in a pretty convenient location just south of the Old City and I tried my best to find my way there without the help of a smartphone/navigational device crutch. Needless to say, my lack of Hebrew and the lack of organized city planning led to us being moderately lost. Mostly because I ignored my gut instinct to turn down a promising street and continued well into the Palestinian Territories before admitting my mistake. After being thwarted by a few one way streets and left-turn-limiting-medians we finally arrived at Sarah’s place, which was overwhelmingly spacious. So much so that it felt empty. It was also a bit unkempt, as a result of roommates in the middle of moving out and Sarah also looking for a new place. Nevertheless/regardless I was very grateful for having free accommodations for a few nights. I even got my own bedroom.
Sarah was a very interesting person in many ways. But most relevantly, Dan and her seemed to/obviously had some unfinished business/lingering history that led to some awkward tensions. No matter, domestic discordance couldn’t stop me from soaking in the wonders of the holy city.
Jerusalem is pretty much all it’s cracked up to be. A sort of historic somberness seems to cling to everything and every act and scene and moment seemed to carry an extra ounce of gravity. Even more so than elsewhere in Israel, it felt as if the people are living with a zeal and fervor as a result of living in such a hotly contested space. People feel more intense and attuned to the present. It isn’t a place where I would enjoy living but is a great place to visit and get a visceral feel for some of the sources of a few of today’s geopolitical issues.
And of course, it was extraordinary to actually visit many of the holiest locations in the three main monotheist religions in the world. I really am a sucker for epic/tragic/romantic histories and Jerusalem would probably be the headliner city for that category. Reading Simon Montefiore’s biography of Jerusalem on my way back from Thailand was a great primer and highly recommended. The monuments and majestic stonework was inspiring by themselves even without the accompanying context. Oh the days where human collaboration resulted in tangible/visually impressive products. While the amount of effort that goes into developing a anti-HIV drug like ATRIPLA may be comparable to the dedication involved in throwing up Jerusalem’s city walls or the Dome of the Rock, it just doesn’t compare in the emotionally/reflectively awe-inspiring aspect. Billionaires need to build more castles, is all I’m saying.
The city walls, almost entirely from the Mamaluk era.
Jaffa (I think) Gate, which used to open onto the highway to Jaffa, the main port for Jerusalem.
A nice Christian coffee shop just inside the gate. Had the most delicious chocolate croissant outside of France.
Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock.
Dome of the Rock
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
A set of doll/toys satirizing the increasing amount of clothing/coverage many Muslim women wear as they get older.
There was also something called the “Peace Road Show” happening when we were there. Which basically involved them shutting down a number of major roads in the city and having some Formula 1 cars and fancy motorcycle racers bust some tricks while people cheered. The idea was to highlight the homegrown talent and increase exposure to the sport I suppose. It was actually pretty cool, though I wish there was an actual race. F1 cars sound just like jets fighters. But a lot closer and therefore louder. I have some videos somewhere, but TBD if I can find them.
We also went to the sooq for some pre-Shabbat shopping. The place was bustling.
We picked up some wine and a few other sundries for dinner and had Shabbat with Sarah and her friend/soon to be roommate. I was even convinced to play some Apples to Apples or something before acrimony set in again. Shabbat being Friday night and Saturday day, we were unable to leave the city until Saturday after sunset and 2 stars appeared in the sky. Everything is shut down in Jerusalem on Shabbat, certainly all public transportation and the only taxi that ran are the few Arab companies. Not that getting a taxi would be any good as no museum was open anyways. Saturday was thus spent frustratingly not doing anything. I suppose the point of Shabbat is to hang out with your family and some such, but that didn’t really work that well for me, seeing as they were a few thousand miles away. I spent the day halfheartedly planning my next moves, but I was wary of trying to lock too many things down too soon. I did sort out my route to Nazareth (having returned the car when we arrived in the city) and onward to Jordan but that only took a small fraction of my day. It being relatively early in my 7-week saga, I was still rearing to do as much as I can and a whole day of waiting around just chafed at me something terrible.
After some vexing and online searching, we figured that we should be able to catch the first bus out to Tel Aviv if we timed it perfectly and depending if the local buses resumed service on a more relaxed schedule. At this point both Dan and I were ready to get out of Dodge ASAP. The plan was to stay with some of Dan’s frisbee/army friends (but not the same ones we stayed with last time) and for me to catch a bus to Nazareth the next morning. Dan would catch a train back to Beersheva and resume being a semi-responsible student. There was also some talks of hitting up a club but neither of us (Dan especially) were in the mood.
This was the crowd outside of the bus station. They were pretty strict about not opening early, but we were able to catch one of the first buses out regardless. Some running may have been involved.
It was a pretty good trek from the bus station to Dan’s friend’s apartment. When we arrived they were playing Settler’s of Catan. Goddamn frisbee players. It turns out there was an American girl visiting on her way to Ultimate Peace, an ultimate program that brings together Palestinian and Israeli youths on the playing field, and she knew my friend Aaron from North Carolina. Small world. We all chilled for a bit then Dan and I set off for a club with one of his friends, who knew someone DJ’ing or was a VIP or some such. As we walked, I found out more about the life of a typical 20 something in Tel Aviv and somehow talked about bats. I also found out that it’s still more hip to speak English and you’re more likely to be let into a club if you seem non-Israeli. Luckily I got that locked down. I was kind of surprised at the degree many Israeli’s still look up to the US though. With so much actual exchange I would’ve imagined that they have already figured out that American culture isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. After a bit more of searching, we did successfully name-drop our way into a club, but I never did meet our mysterious patron. Some dancing was done though.
And this was found at the side of the street: