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On returning to Jerusalem

Fifteen years have passed since I last moved to Jerusalem, and in 2020 we find ourselves living in the German Colony a few hundred metres from where I first moved to the Holy City in 2005.

Back then I was a third year rabbinical student, living in israel for the first time, there to study at the conservative Yeshiva and Hebrew Union college. Ariel Sharon was the prime minister, and during my ten months in the country he would unilaterally withdraw from Gaza, and fall into a coma from which he would never wake up.

I moved to israel at a time when the majority of my classmates refused, or found excuses not to do so. The second intifada was still very much on everyone’s minds, and the terror of the suicide bombings of buses and markets and restaurants was very real. Restaurants and supermarkets had Guards, as did bus stops throughout jerusalem. I remember calculating where the best place to sit on the bus might be, and scanning constantly the other passengers. Some people I met had promised their parents not to take buses at all. Luckily my mother had placed no such restriction.

I remember being shocked at the amount of soldiers and guns on the street. Even sitting next to a soldier on a bus and his rifle resting against my knee. Maybe I just got used to it, but in the last few years Israel became much more relaxed. The guards were phased out and they don’t always scan your bag now at the Central Bus Station. But in these new times of corona, the guards begin to reappear in the cafes and supermarkets. But thankfully the only gun they hold now is a temperature gun, although it’s still a little alarming when it’s held to your forehead. And now my wife has banned me from using public transport for the foreseeable future.

Corona is a common enemy. And - however much carping goes on against the ultra-orthodox and the arabs for not washing hands or wearing masks and allowing it to spread, it is clear that their relatively poor socio-economic status and living conditions are as much to blame for this as anything. We are all in it together - jew and Arab alike - and things will only get under control when everyone understands this fact.

In the Jerusalem of 2020 I have discovered world that I ignored in 2005 - the world of playgrounds, especially in and around the German colony. Noam at 1 and 3/4 begins to become a connoisseur and if I take him to one he doesn’t like, he will quickly tell me: “enough. Another playground.”

Close to our home is Gan Paamon- Liberty Bell park - where you hear Yiddish and Arabic being spoken, alongside Hebrew English and French. Children are wonderfully non-prejudiced, and Noam is equally happy stealing a ride on a toy car from an Arab family or begging a sandwich from an ultra-orthodox family who have sat down for a picnic. I smile apologetically at everyone and admire my son’s stealth and commitment to a more equal and peaceful society.

However on Saturday night Noam stayed home as I joined a protest against the prime minister outside his Jerusalem residence. As a new Israeli citizen it’s a pleasure to exercise my democratic right to protest in this country. Amid a carnival atmosphere - after all, its been a while since so many people have gathered together - the prime minister was invited to quit his job and go home. I think he’s probably not going to take our advice, and in any case, in a democracy these things are usually decided in a ballot box.

While Jews Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem continue to live together and to try to build a coexistence, the current climate of polarisation risks dividing left from right. There have been recent acts of violence against protestors which are quite frightening, amid a climate of encouragement from politicians here who should know better. As the world stresses under the strain of corona, both medical and economic, it will take every syllable of effort from the people of Jerusalem that this city live up to its name and etymology as the city of peace.

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