Saturday, March 5, 2011

Thursday = Friday

Woke up early again and got to watch some of the Blazer game!  Streaming is difficult now because my favorite site went down a while ago, and the other one seems to have gone private... maybe time to buy the KGW games?  It's great watching them here, though the 5 AM tipoff will make it hard now that my jet lag is gone.  But Thursday morning it was still there, and I lay in bed and watched until Rayna got up too and the day began in earnest.

I joined Rayna at my first T'fila (a prayer service) at HUC which is an incredibly beautiful service led by students.  The sanctuary is a very simple space with a tremendous ark whose doors are made of solid marble 2" thick.  The service leaders stand back away from the ark in between two areas of seating that face each other parallel to the long axis of the chapel.  Try picturing a normal religious space with rows of seating perpendicular to the aisle like any church or synagogue you see on tv... now rotate the seating so that you face the aisle!  There are rows of seating towards the back that face the ark, but most people sit facing each other.  And the people leading service stand amongst everyone.  It is much more intimate and communal feeling.  Everyone participates and the score of rabbinical and cantorial students make for an incredible immersive experience.  Rayna is truly in her element here and joined in with the beautiful voice and enthusiasm she brings to her training and spiritual existence.

After service Rayna had a full day of classes so I embarked on a personal adventure to explore the Old City on my own, and to learn more Hebrew through the fantastic audio lessons that Carmin (my step mom) and and my Dad gave to me last year.  I walk the streets approaching the Old City from HUC with my earbuds in diligently repeating the Hebrew phrases... and I definitely get some strange looks and a few laughs.

I walked through Mamilla mall which is a brand new very high end mall that connects some major streets (one of those being the street HUC (Rayna's school) is on) to the Jaffa gate.  It's a strange experience walking through this modern space of commerce to the ancient gate of the Old City.  But what's strangest of all is that it feels right in some critical ways.

Mamilla mall is an open air pedestrian walk with fancy stores and restaurants on each side.  Addidas, The North Face, fine art galleries, high end fashion (local and international) boutiques etc... line both sides with a few open areas that provide amazing vistas to the city of Jerusalem and the beautiful valleys and rolling hills nearby.  Walking through it I get the feeling this use is nothing new.  Perhaps never in this exact spot but an open air market with stalls and shops, money changing, wares being hawked, art, people watching... this is what h as been happening here for THOUSANDS of years.  Of course the scale and products have mostly changed, but it feels unnaturally natural.  Like diet cola.

Walking down this mall puts you on a plaza right outside of Jaffa gate.  People gather here for tours, to take pictures, to eat some treats from the mall, and just to sit and stare.  Which I did.  All of that.  I ate a snack (Israel has amazing bakeries everywhere), I listened in to a tour being given in english, I took some pictures, and I sat.  I sat and stared in wonder at the Citadel of David, and at Jaffa gate.  It feels strange to be able to just walk through the gate without a ticket, or a wristband, or something.  It's like Disney world for history and religion.  And it's free, open to the public (assuming you can get into the country) and real.  It's amazing and mysterious.

There was a woman there taking pictures on a large format camera.  I have been having trouble with a spot on my photos so I asked her if she knew of a photo shop.  She told me of one on Yaffa street... I have learned enough Hebrew already to ask her if she spoke English, which of course, she did.  Everyone here does.  Disney, I'm telling you.  This factors in later, but it felt good, like I'm getting to know this place personally enough to get directions and talk to strangers.

I took some photos of the gate, of the pigeons flying about, of the stones... but there's just too much to capture.  Each part of Jerusalem is photogenic and tells a story.  Good or bad, it is imbued with history and character like layers of paint in a masterpiece capturing light, infusing with color and meaning, wrapping the mind, pulling your vision in deeper and deeper through history.  I fell through the gate, like water through a drain, pulled into the city to wander.

I wandered left and down, through the Christian quarter, past small alleys and openings to headquarters of unknowable organizations.  Religions symbols adorning ancient stones whose meaning is lost to me, and perhaps to the ages.  I fell down through the layers of time and history.  Like eras of conquering forces, Roman sects, Greek orders, Armenian brotherhoods, Coptic, Ottoman, Arab, till I found myself surrounded by the smells and sounds of a dark and lively marketplace.  This is the Arab market or shuk which consists of stores of incredible variety.  Including Judaica and Christianica(?), goods durable and soft, and food galore.  Candy, spices, bakeries, drinks, junk food, raw ingredients and MEAT.  Halal butchers with entire butchered animals hanging, huge hocks, and unidentifiable sections of meat.  Blood draining down the stones into gutters, washed by the men working here, eagerly welcoming in customers.

I didn't linger.  It is a strange experience.  Not unwelcome but not altogether comfortable.  I sought the open areas of the city again.  those bathed in the strong sunlight of this high country.  Down a long dark alley I spotted stairs to discover I was fooled by a large metal overhead door whose sections looked like the faces of stone risers.  A forced right, back up another alley with more of the endless shops... sunlight growing stronger here, a face of a building bathed in light, always turning towards greater open air I finally found my way out of the labyrinth of that commercial chasm.

And into the light and clatter of another spectacle.  I'd stumbled onto the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  This center of Christianity couldn't be more baffling.  A glaring opposite of the grand churches and courts of Rome or Paris, England or even the US this relic sits in a tight irregular rectangle of space off center on it's primary elevation, looking uncomfortable and squashed into this shoebox of a quadrangle.  I'd promised Rayna that we'd see it together so I lingered for only a moment and began my wanderings again.  I'll be back to let that old gal tease me with her potential soon.

I wondered further, to the viewing platform of the Kotel, and back up the steps to Kikar Hurva where a massive new beautiful Ramban Synagogue sits.  Built on the site of the most impressive and largest synagogue of the ages (Synagogue, not Temple) that was destroyed during an occupation, this edifice is a statement of permanence and perseverance.  Rayna and I will get a tour some day.

I can only handle so much intense sensory information in one wandering so I decided to head for the camera shop the nice lady had told me about.  I tried to head for the Damascus Gate on the north side of the old city, but got lost in the narrow winding alleys of the market and Christian quarter.  After many wrong turns and dead ends to which I was delighted to encounter, I found myself at the New Gate built in the 1880s, and exited the Old City for the airy spaciousness of new Jerusalem.

I found myself on the tracks of the brand new Light Rail line that goes up Yaffa Street, so I went in search of the store I'd been told of.  I never found it but did find a Photo shop who directed me to a Photo lab!  Super friendly and competent, they took my camera and told me to come back in an hour and they would have my chip and optics cleaned.  Naturally I asked for a recommendation for lunch, Schwarma to be specific!  And they came through nicely.  One full belly and a shot of espresso later I was back and picked up my camera.  Of course as Israelis they wouldn't let me take the camera without first double checking it was properly serviced.  So I took the extra couple of minutes to ask them for more info.  I love the way Israelis talk and relate.  So direct and matter of fact, but always professional.

By now it was time to meet Rayna at home so I walked from Ben Yehuda/Yaffa back through the streets to our apartment.  I was pretty worn out but I'll tell you, one shot of espresso and I was good to go!

Rayna came  home and we split for a birthday dinner in the Emek Rafaim neighborhood just south of where we live.  It's a super cool and fun place, like 21st. Ave in Portland, or Shadyside in Pittsburgh.  Lots of shops and restaurants, and people walking everywhere.  We had a lovely group dinner, bought some treats for Shabbat the next night, and walked home.  After a short stop at home we headed out again to a bar up by Ben Yehuda where we met some of Rayna's classmates and associated friends.  I met a guy named Adam (one of Rayna's classmates boy friend) who is getting his masters in religious literature at Hebrew University.  What an interesting person to talk to, and to answer some of the many thousands of questions occurring to me with every turn of the road here in this mystical and complex place.

It was my first night out and really fun.  We sat outside a bar and I had two Goldstar beers.  It's the local brew, and tasted just right after a long day of wandering, sun, talking and thinking.


  1. Wandering/wondering - both appropriate for getting to know Jerusalem. Enjoy each day. We are looking forward to wander/wonder with you soon!

  2. Your blog is making me homesick for Jerusalem, Eli. You are experiencing so many of our favorite spots. Emik Refaim is the heart of our old neighborhood there! Enjoy, enjoy and keep those entries coming. Shavuah Tov.