27 Cheshvan 5759

(November 16, 1998) – Jerusalem

I shook hands with Jerusalem today, talked to her a little. She still has not told me any secrets, but at least I know more than just her name.

But I must remember not to eat breakfast between 7:30 and 8:30 tomorrow. The General Assembly people leave at 8:30 and the dining room is bedlam when they are there. Mobs are not fun, even when it’s a friendly mob.

Today I managed a decent start for the Old City, in fact – so decent that nothing was open when I got there. Backtracked a little to inspect the homes they are building in King David City. One of these is mine!

The rush to leave Philadelphia with so much pressure from work meant that I had not had time to get traveler’s checks from my local bank. The Thomas Cook counter at the airport had just sold out of all of its US dollar traveler’s checks (they said someone had purchased $14,000 right before I got there). So I arrived in Israel with only credit cards and odd dollar change, maybe $45. That is not a recommended way to begin a trip!

Therefore I spent the first thirty minutes preoccupied with finding an ATM. The one on Ben Yehuda Street had been out of order last night. I finally found one in the Jewish Quarter and could relax and enjoy the rest of the day.

So much is locked away in these streets and alleys. What surprised me most: People actually live here! What had I expected? Only touristy places? I don’t know why I thought it would be that way. I liked getting off the main “roads” and wandering where little boys played soccer and small children laughed on swingsets. Surprised too that their mothers seated on park benches seemed pleased when I would touch the heads of their children in passing.

This is all out of order, I know. The visuals make this gorgeous collage that will not settle down into chronological musings.

Nothing quite like the experience of walking the steps down to the Western Wall. Not even the soldiers at the checkpoints who inspect everything you’re taking in could undo the gripping moment.

While I would like to see men and women davening together, even the barrier could not diminish my emotions. No, I wasn’t ‘overcome’ like many who wailed and danced. When I am overwhelmed, I grow silent. And I was silent indeed.

Humorous moment: A kippot’d man standing outside his bookshop invited me to come in and browse. I told him I would like to, but I was in search of a restroom. He offered me the use of the shop’s WC. Turns out he’s from Reading, Pennsylvania! I may seriously go back and browse and read. Most of what he had was in English.

For lunch, I ate at The Quarter Cafe – beat a whomping tour group (mixed German and American) by less than five minutes. I therefore got to enjoy my spinach and ricotta crepe! At a table! Overlooking the Wall!

Less enjoyable: The encounter with a “bazaar man” near the Tower of David. Bazaar Man sidled over while I was resting, drinking a Coke, trying to get me to visit his booth. “Everything half price!” I had watched as he pestered other tourists, so decided to ignore him. But he wouldn’t take ignore for an answer. “Sweet American lady, won’t you please come to my bazaar?”

I tried alternative ways of shutting him down once ‘ignore’ failed. Said “NO!” without looking him in the eyes. Said “NO!” looking him directly in the eyes. Said “NO! I do not want to come to your bazaar! Leave me alone!” After that last response, he sat down next to me. So I left. Jerusalem needs to figure out a way to contain Bazaar Men. This was an unpleasant incident in an otherwise delightful day.

As I walked to the Old City down Agron Street, I was disappointed that I was not allowed to take a picture of the American Consulate. I may still call and ask permission – depends on schedule. It’s not like my snapshot could give away any military secrets everyone else doesn’t already know. It’s very small, not what I would expect for our diplomatic representation in this place.

At day’s end, I walked home down Sira Street, to Hillel and King George, enjoying the brief sensation of living as an Israeli, off the beaten path – although the experience is at best transitory. Almost as soon as I congratulated myself on that sentiment, I realized I cannot know how it really feels to live as an Israeli. There are neither cruse nor scud missiles screaming across the night sky while I am here, nor have I touched (much less worn) a gas mask. And I am pampered beyond belief in that wonderful palace that is the Sheraton.

But I did go grocery shopping at a local store around the corner from the hotel. Happy that Philadelphia friends had warned me that they search you going in (for bombs), not coming out (for unpaid items), because otherwise that would have been an odd feeling indeed. Among other things, I bought one bottle each of Gold Star and Maccabbee to see which I like best. Experiments are fun!


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