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The magic that is JERUSALEM

Photo by Sander Crombach

 Jerusalem is Israel. It is the magnet that draws me back again and again. There is nothing I can think of anywhere to compare to Jerusalem. Perhaps it is because it means so many things to so many different religions: perhaps because it is old in the middle and new around the rim. Even in its overcrowded markets there is something spiritual hovering over Jerusalem, something beckoning me to the Kotel, to Ben Yehuda Street, to the open market where everything from a mosaic camel to a vegetable I have never before laid eyes on awaits me. It's the colors, the aromas, the energy of young men pushing barrows loaded with shining purple aubergines, and old men, oblivious to the tumult, sitting engrossed in a game of backgammon. The dried fruits in abundance in stalls, next to other stalls offering hunks of halva, nuts, fresh fruit, fish and meat.

Old and new structures stand side by side. Arab and Jew walk side by side. Women and children walk side by side. Orthodox Jews walk as they have for centuries, their women following.

When I tire and my feet ache I find a seat and people-watch. I see soldiers. I see children. I see the ultra-religious and those who are non-observant. I see teenagers coming to Israel on the Birthright program, discovering what it is that makes them a Jew. I see black-skinned Jews and brown-skinned Jews. I hear so many languages I begin to feel I'm in the Tower of Babel. A Greek Orthodox priest passes by; a nun walks the steps Jesus took on the Via Dolorosa.

Wait - someone's yelling in Hebrew.

"What's his problem?" I ask a woman resting beside me.

She replies, "He's lost his wife. Has anyone seen his wife?"

"How would we know her if we saw her?"

"You wouldn't - ignore him. She'll find him – how could you miss such a meshuginer?"

If it's Saturday, no Jews, or very few are seen; if it's Friday, no Muslims; if it's Sunday, no Christians. Don't tell me this isn't a multi-religious city.

Who am I? A British Jew brought up in London. A Rhodesian Jew forced to leave the country I loved so much. An Anglo-American, who goes home to London, comes back to America and feels a kinship with Israel. Not only with Jerusalem but with the country itself, all the small towns: Caesarea and its Roman remains; the Golan, where they seem to take the rockets from Lebanon for granted; Netanya, where there seems to be more Brits than Israelis; kibbutzim and moshavim; Arab villages and Bedouin encampments. Palestinians -- I wish I could speak to them. I'm a writer, once a journalist, and I want to know how they feel, and whether they want to live in peace, or rid the world of Jews and just see Israel sink into the sea to claim back what they are told is theirs.

I drive with a friend. He sees a gate. Oh, pity, usually it's open – we could have gone through Jordan. He reverses and we continue on to have Sabbath dinner somewhere in the Golan. No candles on the table. No prayers. These are secular Jews not interested in the traditions – eat, eat, plenty more in the kitchen. My dad must be turning in his grave. Friday night at home in London during the Second World War, we lit candles and said the blessings, no matter whether air raids sounded or shelters beckoned. Here in Israel, I'm in the land of the Bible and Israelis don't have to be reminded they are Jews.

The day before I was scheduled to fly to Israel, the U.S. State Department closed all embassies in the Middle East. I was advised not to go; there was trouble in Syria. I ignored the warning. I would not willingly walk into danger, but, I know that in Israel there is always danger and if I stayed away I'd be doing a disservice to myself and to the country I admire.

Israel is continually threatened. Enemies abound. Anger proliferates on both sides. I will not stay away. It is not my country but I do feel it is my responsibility to help, to do what I can to counter the criticism and to tell others to visit and experience Israel for themselves. I will speak about it, write about it, and support it in any way I can.

And, I will return. 

 

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Saturday, 29 January 2022

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