Living in Jerusalem and Inter-Planetary Travel
Posted by rabbibrian on January 26, 2010
While we are in Israel for the next five months, we are living in a beautiful apartment in Katamon, in West (Jewish) Jerusalem. Katamon and two adjacent neighborhoods, Baka and German Colony, have a large population of Americans and other English-speaking Israelis. In some ways, I feel at home here. I am very familiar with the area: the synagogues, the beautiful stores, the coffee shops, the bus system. I know a good number of people in the area, especially in the liberal Anglo Jewish community. I have always loved Hebrew and am fairly fluent for someone who doesn’t live here. I enjoy schmoozing with cab drivers, store owners, people on the bus and enjoy watching the news on Israeli TV and reading Israeli newspapers. Shabbat is very special, starting on Friday with the neighborhood bustling with people preparing, the stores filled with challah and delicacies for Shabbat, the coffee shops full with people enjoying their semi official second day of the weekend. Shabbat day is peaceful, quiet and renewing.
My wife, a rabbi who is on sabbatical from her congregation, is really happy here. She loves to study and Jerusalem offers so much in terms of Jewish study. Our daughter is at an Israeli school and learning a lot about Israeli culture. My oldest son lives and works here and is about to marry a wonderful Israeli woman.
Yet, since I have been here I have the feeling of being an inter-planetary traveller. Our life in West Jerusalem is totally isolated from the other planet that I visit a few times a week, the “planet” of East (Arab) Jerusalem and the West Bank. Almost everyone who lives on this planet, West (Jewish) Jerusalem, doesn’t venture into East Jerusalem, nor into the Occupied Territories. There are some people who cross over, Israeli peace activists and some others, but for most people on this side, even those in the liberal neighborhood in which we are living, it is another world, another “planet” as far away as Tibet or China. The town of Bethlehem is no more than 10 minutes drive from our apartment, yet it feels like another world. You can live here and never see, hear or think about the Occupation that is just a short ride away.
While I am enjoying being in Jewish Jerusalem, I am constantly haunted by that other reality that most Israelis (and almost all American Jews who visit here) have chosen to ignore. I am making an effort to go beyond the isolated bubble of Jewish Jerusalem. During the five months we spend here, I want to learn about Palestinian culture, to cultivate relationships with Palestinians, to learn Arabic, and to advocate for justice for the Palestinians and a negotiated settlement to the conflict.
Living with both realities is complicated, challenging and at times very painful. When I return from a day in the West Bank, it is hard not to get angry at the wilful blindness of Israelis. Do they know the reality on the other side? Do they care?
Gila Svirsky, a longtime Israeli peace activist, just wrote a powerful article that inspired me to write the post. She ends her article with the following paragraph:
There is a country full of people on this beautiful Saturday afternoon watching the sailboats skim by, driving out to catch the fields full of red poppies after the heavy winter rains, or walking their dogs through daffodils. But they won’t be crossing the Separation Barrier anytime soon to witness the horrors on the other side, and the news on TV in the evening won’t bring that horror into their homes. “What occupation?” is now the most common reaction of passersby to our Women in Black vigil in Jerusalem. For the young, it’s an honest question; for the older, it’s a smirk and walk on.
For the next five months, I hope be an inter-planetary traveller, going back and forth, by bike, by bus, by car and by foot. I am not sure how often I will be able to cross to the other side, but I hope to do so as frequently as possible. l I have already learned so much from the journey, complicated as it is. I am curious to see what the journey will bring.
I urge you to read Gila’s important article. It is very moving.