Sometimes an idle comment hits the mark more accurately than a careful analysis. Marcia and I have now lived in Jerusalem for over a year. Marcia and Penn_E have friends. I have a driver’s license. (The licensing process here makes traditional American red tape look like a shot down a water slide but that’s another story.) We have discount cards at the nearest super market, know our way to the post office and are unafraid to ride the bus (except when we’ve drawn a certain mad operator on Line 17 with a kippa, a death wish and a union card). But it has sometimes been difficult to accurately and concisely answer the simple question, “What’s it like there?” from our perspective and in general.
But something clarifying snapped into focus recently thanks to someone we met at the King David Hotel.
Across the street from the King David sits another ponderous landmark, the Jerusalem YMCA. (Because Israeli’s are so comfortable without vowels, we are told, this is often rendered, “Yimkah.”) Both the hotel (1931) and the Yimkah (1928) are pre-independence structures built not far from the Old City. They’ve seen a lot. The King David saw Marcia and me walk up for dinner not long ago to celebrate finding a sitter for our blind, demanding dog. Our birthdays were also involved.
From its earliest days, the King David Hotel hosted royalty: the dowager empress of Persia, queen mother Nazli of Egypt and King Abdullah I of Jordan stayed at the hotel, and three heads of state forced to flee their countries took up residence there:King Alfonso XIII of Spain…Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia…and King George II of Greece who set up his government in exile at the hotel after the Nazi occupation of his country in 1942. During the British Mandate, the southern wing of the hotel was turned into a British administrative and military headquarters. (source)
The King David is famous, old and elegant, reminiscent of the best brass, wood and leather hotels in the states and yet they let us in. Just before dinner our hostess, Ayla, a young lady born and reared in California told us a bit about herself. She moved to the land about two years ago after having served in the IDF. Then she made Aliyah and is now an Israeli citizen. From the hotel dining room we could see the Old City walls, David’s Tower, and the hills beyond, formally occupied (not owned) by Jordan.
“How do you like it here?” we asked as we took our seats.
Other than the constant threat of war,” she answered, “it’s wonderful.”
Well, there it was. For many, Other than the constant threat of war… The photo at the top of this post shows the exterior of the Jerusalem Theater. On Monday evenings there are free concerts. Marcia and Miriam, our landlady, attend most of these and the quality is quite good. Recently Miriam sat for Penn_E so that Marcia and I could go. What fun. A short walk, a quick Hebrew bio of Jorj Gair-Shwinn, and then music, piano and singing, well done.
Just down the street from the Jerusalem Theater is an Islamic Art Museum. All over Jerusalem one can see Jews and Arabs getting along.
Unfortunately, one can also easily happen upon a mini-drama like the shot below; from our apartment balcony, a remote-controlled bomb-robot checks out a suspicious red suitcase left in the trash. Note the rifle, used for detonating bombs, mounted up top.
What to think? There’s no more appropriate place for such contrasts than Jerusalem. Here in this ancient city in this tiny state, six million Jews and over a million Arabs have settled in to see what happens. Meanwhile twenty-two surrounding Islāmic states prepare children for Jihad, pocket international funding and enrich uranium. (As the heroes of Gaza launch rockets every day.)
Despite the angst of Joe Biden, Israel builds housing. Young people like Ayla continue to relent to a strange need to be here. Miriam grows her garden. Last summer I helped her and an Arab Israeli, Sammy, extend wires to guide vines for shade farther over the walk leading to our building.
What’s it like for Marcia and me, waiting for these vines to complete the span?
With no exceptions, wonderful.