One of the best aspects of traveling, is the opportunity to experience the vibrancy and diversity of local religions, traditions and cultures. Jerusalem provides many such opportunities.
Craaaazy, loud and rude!
The zen state of mind I reached in Mitzpe Ramon vanished the moment I stepped off the bus and into the holy city they call Jerusalem. Jerusalem is crowded and the traffic is impossible but in a strange way that’s part of the excitement. Jerusalem is the only city I can say about that, apart from New York. In fact, the New York Jewish neighbourhoods is just what Jerusalem reminded me of – it had the same noise, honking, chatter, the same buzz of energy.
Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world has over the centuries switched hands as frequently as one changed their underwear. Since 4500 BC to now (2016) Jerusalem has switched hands 20 times and the last real Jewish rulering was in The Hasmonean dynasty in 165BC-37BC. Jerusalem has seen many different shades and religions through the years which is why it is no surprise that today Jerusalem’s Old City is split into Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter; and surprise surprise, there is still a dispute over Temple Mount. Yet the amazing thing is that the amidst the disputes and conflict the city still thrives.
Aside from the Old City, Jerusalem city centre has a different flavor entirely. While Jerusalem isn’t architecturally interesting it is historically fascinating and Jerusalem is decidedly hip, with pricey boutiques, swanky nightspots, and rising rents. The bread bakeries, falafel shops, fresh fruit stalls, and produce vendors will send your senses reeling. The fabulous Mahane Yehuda Market offers the freshest produce, ingredients, and incredible falafel. At every turn off Jaffa Street you can find live music, pantomines and performances being played out.
Jewish people are rude.
Don’t expect to be drawn to the conviviality, warmth and exuberance of the neighborhood locals… it’s nothing personal but they won’t make you feel like part of the family – that’s just how it is. A Jewish in Jerusalem has less manners than a baboon – and that’s insulting the baboon. Most locals I encountered did not have any sense of respect and everyone is pretty much out for themselves and don’t care how it affects other people’s lives. So it’s normal to be not so courteous and barge your way into a line, just remember, before you get angry that it’s nothing personal – it is just how it is.
I wandered through the narrow central market isle, dumbfounded at the scale of the place. Locals and tourists alike stream into big, bustling Mahane Yehuda Market where more than 250 vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables to customers yelling out their orders wildly like lunatics. The combination of old tradition and modern flare is the most unique aspect about the market. Stalls and shops which are traditional and modern stand meters apart, both styles adding their own vigor to the atmosphere. Recent additions to the market’s stalls include an espresso bar, “hip jewelry” stores, and designer clothing “boutiques. At night, the open-air Mahane Yehuda Market closes the fruit and veg stalls and transforms into a vibrant nightlife spot with speciality bars, restaurants, live music and singers and becomes a place for people to gather, drink, dance and converse over loud music. Day and night, this is my favourite place to be in Jerusalem.
A Walk Through The Most Fanatic Jewish Orthodox Neighbourhood
luckily, nobody threw any stones, nappies or spat at me!
Guided by a local I walked through the most fanatic Jewish Orthodox neighbourhood in the world, Mea Shearim. Very few people go here and it is a rare opportunity to take a peak inside ultra-Orthodox life.
Established in 1874, Mea Shearim is an insulated neighbourhood in the heart of Jerusalem. It is one of the first neighbourhoods out of the old city which makes it one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the new city, from the modern age. This is an ultra-orthodox neighbourhood occupied by the Haredi Jews. The term Haredi means I fear the meaning of God. With its overwhelmingly Haredi population, the streets retain the flavor of an East European Life back in the 19th century which revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish texts. Traditions in dress may include black frock coats and black or fur-trimmed hats for men and long-sleeved, modest clothing for women. “Modesty” posters in Hebrew and English are hung at every entrance to Mea Shearim. When visiting the neighborhood, women and girls are asked to wear what is deemed to be modest dress (knee-length skirts or longer, no plunging necklines or midriff tops, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders) and tourists are requested not to arrive in large, conspicuous groups. During the Shabbat (from sunset Friday until it is completely dark on Saturday night), visitors should refrain from smoking, photography, driving or use of mobile phones. When entering synagogues, men should cover their heads.
The walk itself was tense, it kind of looked like I was walking through an Eastern European ghetto. The streets were tightly packed, dark and narrow, blocking out all sunlight which gives it a very gloomy depressing vibe. Nothing is affluent and certainly not modern, it just looks run-down. As I looked around, I was constantly waiting for something to happen – I’d heard so many stories about stone throwing and people being ran out. My heart was constantly beating faster than usual and I had a eery feeling that I was in the wrong place – at the wrong time. Actually, there was no right time for someone like me to be there. I was uncomfortable and very aware that I was wearing a t-shirt and trousers. Due to my severe immodesty men immediately looked away from me and the women too. True, they choose to be the way they are and I can’t apologise for who I am, but I felt guilty being there and although nobody threw things at me or told me to leave, my heart rate returned to normal once the walk was over and I was back in the open air of Jerusalem city.
(It struck me as bizarre that the atmosphere in Mea Shearim contrasts sharply with the surrounding modernity of Jerusalem center)
The Holiest Day of My Life
Friday at the Western Wall. WOAHHHH!!!!!
If you are in Jerusalem on Friday night – go to the Western Wall and observe, or take part in the recitation of special Friday evening prayers known as Kabbalat Shabbat, the joyous Jewish ritual of welcoming the Sabbath. These prayers have been recited by Jews around the world for centuries, and consist of silent prayers, singing, and spontaneous dancing.
It really just looks like a big holy party. The men and women are seperated by a wall and on both sides people are dancing, singing, chanting and praying.
Shabbat at the Western Wall is often described as a magical experience. At sunset on Friday, thousands of Jews gather at the Western Wall to welcome the Sabbath. Soldiers in uniform with rifles on their backs dance with men in long black coats and teenagers with backpacks. The divisions of Israeli society are not as polarizing here, where Jews of all beliefs and backgrounds join together in joy and prayer.
Placing my note to G-D in the Western Wall
During the celebration I squeezed my way through the busy crowd to the front of the Western Wall and took the chance to put my note ‘to God’
Jerusalem City By Day
I went on a walking tour by Sandeman Tour Group which left from Jaffa Gate and was led by Emmanuel, a half Israeli half Manchester guy.
To step through Jaffa Gate is to be lost at once in a random, seemingly endless warren of rank, alleyways, narrow passageways wandering between rows of old, sand-coloured walls. We started at the Tower of David which was naturally impressive, but I confess that all the history facts were largely wasted on me after I learned that the story didn’t entirely make sense.
We toured all four Old City quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian & Armenian and got incredible views of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Mount of Olives. We explored Hurva (Ruined) Synagogue, David’s Citadel, Roman Cardo Maximus and the Amazing (Arab) Suq – Covered markets
Arab Market in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City is an extraordinary place – crowded, noisy, extremely colourful – with individual, open-sided stalls specializing in fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, clothes, spices and other commodities. Every stall was a picture of abundance and sumptuousness, every nut and tomato and spice more neatly arranged and more richly coloured than any I had seen before anywhere. It seemed impossible that one person could agree to buy just one thing. There was plenty. Beyond the main food stalls was a sort of bazaar of dark stalls containing everything from cloth to small electrical items. I noticed men selling small ornaments – batteries, torches, plastic wallets, key rings, playing cards… Arabs know how to run markets.
Emmanuel, the tour guide, gave us (my fellow group members) what can only be called an exhaustive tour. There wasnt an alcove or pediment to which we weren’t given a full history, not a pit or dwelling whose excavated contents werent thoroughly described. We left packed with knowledge and admiration, and ready for a very large meal. Falafel, humus and pita.