Sep 13, 2022 Time & Space – A Stroll through Jerusalem
As we approach the Jewish New Year, many of us review our lives and how we’ve spent our time. We think about what we did during the past year, both good and bad, whom we lost and whom we gained, be it new friends or a new family member. We notch up another year and look forward to what the new year may hold. We may also reflect on the places we have been, especially if we were lucky to return to some post-Covid travel. We may have been abroad or much closer to home, visiting a public place off limits during the pandemic or a restaurant that has just opened. As I think about the places I have been and the places I hope to go to in the coming year, my thoughts turn to a children’s book by Dr. Seuss called, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” One of my favorite verses from that book is,
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So… get on your way!”
A few weeks ago, that verse inspired me to do one of my favorite activities, urban walking. Be it New York City, Shanghai, Santiago, Chile, or Tel Aviv, I love walking. I always observe something new, which I love to share with those near and dear to me. One recent hot summer day, events came together to encourage me to “get on your way.” A client canceled an appointment, and a colleague called, wishing to meet me at the Old (Ottoman) Train Station in Jerusalem, now a recreational area with restaurants and happenings. I was working that day at our office in the Hi-Tech industrial area of Har Hotzvim. Sensing an opportunity for one of my urban walks, I opened the Google Map app and saw that to meet my colleague would take me about an hour to walk a little over 5 kilometers. According to the app, I would need to climb 100 meters during this walk, which did not seem too challenging to me. So, I connected my AirPods to my phone and put on my backpack. (My editor adds that the temperature in Jerusalem that day was 92 Fahrenheit or 33 Celsius, mild by August standards during Global Warming). As I started out on my mini adventure, it did not occur to me that in my 5 kilometers walk, I would experience five different worlds, an experience I believe can only happen in Jerusalem.
World Number #1 – Har Hotzvim – “Start-Up Nation.” Here in the first stage of my walk, I experience the buzz of Israel in the 21st century. Between the new cars (lots of Teslas), the office buildings under construction, and the Wolt delivery people on motor scooters, I feel the special energy of this unique generation of mostly young Israelis working in Hi-Tech. The giant Mobile Eye complex that Intel is building, combined with the line of people catching a late lunch/early dinner at a sushi restaurant, leads me to imagine that I could be taking a stroll in Palo Alto.
World Number #2 – East Jerusalem – The next part of my walk technically takes place in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem today is approximately 40% Arab. In fact, while East Jerusalem is generally associated in the media with the Arab population, the part of the city I am now walking through is predominantly made up of Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Nonetheless, my encounter at this stage is with Arabs working in the construction industry, who are laboring to accommodate Jerusalem’s population, which is about to reach 1 million inhabitants. Thankfully, despite what you read, most encounters are pleasant and friendly, and for this, we must have gratitude. Somehow between being engrossed in a podcast and not paying attention to signs to avoid entry, I find myself in the middle of a construction site for the Jerusalem Light Rail. Several Arab construction workers are running toward me. As I turn off my podcast and ask them what’s wrong, I notice for the first time that my shoes and pants are covered in gray dust, and I am standing in the middle of several bulldozers and cranes. They ask me if I am all right since I am unknowingly standing in a very dangerous place with heavy machinery at work. They gently but firmly take me by the arm and lead me to safety. Their warmth and sincere concern for my well-being is deeply felt and gives me a glimmer of hope that we Jews and Arabs can live peacefully in Jerusalem. We part, wishing each other well as befitting both our cultures and I continue on my way.
World Number #3 – Ultra Orthodox neighborhoods – I now began my climb toward the famous neighborhood of Mea Shearim. I pass many, many synagogues, Talmud Torahs (yeshivot for children), and storefronts catering to the Charedi world. The special energy of this neighborhood, known well to all Jerusalemites, peaks at Kikar HaShabbat when the stop lights allow pedestrians to cross simultaneously in all six directions. Baby strollers are whizzing by with young yeshivah students and delivery boys literally moving in all directions. Every store you pass is full of customers, and it seems to me there is as much merchandise on the sidewalk as inside the shops. Uniform dress code colors for all are black and white, and backpacks are eschewed for plastic bags. I feel my violet shirt and backpack standing out as I climb up Rehov Strauss. But that’s OK.
World Number #4 – Jaffa Road – I have now left what felt like 19th century Eastern Europe and have entered the Jerusalem city center, which I would call the Ingathering of the Exiles. The prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah would be happy to see their prophecies come true since you can find every type of Jew walking up, down, and across Jaffa Road, crossing, not necessarily at the designated spots. Having survived my climb of 100 meters, I find myself on the relatively flat Jaffa Road. Since the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail, the famous street has been relatively quiet since there are no longer any cars or buses allowed in the area. However, that lack of car noise is made up by the sound of the mix of people from every walk of life and ethnic group in Israel, running to catch a ride on the Light Rail or socializing on the wide sidewalks. In this part of the city, I am grateful I’m not climbing another hill and enjoy taking in the smell of food from fast food restaurants and the bursts of colors from both the people and shops that I pass.
World Number #5 – Shlomzion HaMalka and King David Street I veer off Jaffa Road and find myself in a very different milieu. Here, I am passing by high-end coffee shops, art galleries, and lots of tourists. While over a year ago, amid the pandemic, these streets and Kikar HaShabbat were probably mostly deserted, today they are full of people seeking a good time or enjoying a long-awaited vacation. While there are still cars and buses in this part of town, the feel is more of a European walkway, particularly as I approach the iconic King David Hotel on one side of the street and the YMCA on the other. While this section of Jerusalem seems to have retained its look since I arrived here 43 years ago, it certainly has been given a facelift and possesses a nice blend of the old and the new.
As I approach the end of my walk, I spot my destination, the old Khan Theater Train Station, now gentrified as First Station. The station opened in 1892 during the Ottoman period as the last stop of the Jaffa–Jerusalem line, an 86.6-kilometer journey reaching an elevation of 787 meters. In 1892 the train took three and a half hours or sometimes all day. Today the train ride to the new Yitzhak Navon station takes 30 minutes with breathtaking views that segue quickly into the mountain tunnel, arriving in Jerusalem 22 stories below street level. While my walking journey was much shorter than riding the Ottoman railroad, I am feeling so grateful for an hour so rich in diversity and sites. I am feeling fulfilled and energetic. Fortunately, my colleague is a friend because my appearance would not have been suitable for a meeting with a new client. However, despite the sweat pouring from my brow and dust on my shoes, I had a wonderful experience traveling through time and space. I had indeed followed Dr. Seuss’s wise advice that “Today was my day! My mountain was waiting. So… got on my way!”
Wishing you all a healthy and fulfilling year, and may your journeys this year be full of new experiences that make the coming year a special one.
About the old train ride from Jaffa to Jerusalem https://www.almendron.com/tribuna/a-train-ride-back-to-the-old-israel/