Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 10-11: You Don't Know True Love Until You've Been To Jerusalem

Ever since arriving in Israel there has been one thing on my mind: Getting home to Jerusalem. Now don't get me wrong, I LOVE Tel aviv. The city is so vibrant, energetic, full of life, and exciting, but even in the middle of all the action, my heart has always been, and alway will be, B'Yerushalayim (In Jerusalem). My friend Susanna and I decided we would go to the Holy City Thursday after my Ulpan, and I honestly don't know how I stayed focused for 5 hours of Hebrew while I was so excited about my upcoming trip. Anyways, Ulpan came and went (with some more compliments from my teacher, and a perfect homework grade minus any red comment marks), and finally it was time to leave! I went back home and realized I didn't quite know how to get to the Tachana Markazit (Central Bus Station) from my dorm. Again, with my fantastic sense of directions, I decided to walk away from the university in hopes of catching a bus that would take me down to the station. Well, leave it to me, I walk in the wrong direction, don't find a bus, am on a time frame, and end up having to spend 60 Shekel on a cab... NO BUENO. I made it to the Tachana Markazit just in time, and luckily Susanna held a Sherut (shared taxi) spot for me. Finally, we were off!

After about 40 minutes or so in the Sherut I could start seeing signs for Jerusalem, and my heart was racing with excitement. Another few minutes and I saw the big Bruchim Habayim (Welcome) sign that indicates we were entering Jerusalem. I WAS HOME, and it felt so amazing. We were now driving through streets that I knew, and places no longer looked foreign to me. I recognized streets, places, shops, restaurants, and it felt so familiar and wonderful. There were many things that were different however. When I lived in Jerusalem two years ago many of the streets were torn up to build tracks for trains, and bridges for cars, and the city was in a bit of disarray. Now, however, the scene was so different. The bridges were finished, the tracks were done, and every so often we would see a train (one that mostly resembled the monorail at Disneyland) run across town. It was magical, and Jerusalem looked gorgeous and new while still maintaining its ancient feel.

After we dropped off our bags at Susanna's friends apartment (where we stayed the night), we walked to the famous Ben Yahuda street to do some shopping. It was midday but the heat was so different than in Tel Aviv. In Tel Aviv the heat and humidity could choke a horse, but in Jerusalem it was dry, warm, and wonderful! Though it was on the hotter side of warm, there was a cool breeze that swept the city, and it made the day so profoundly beautiful. We spent some time walking around Ben Yahuda street, watching all of the birthright groups and tour groups stroll by, and then we decided to do some shopping! I didn't end up buying anything but it was so nice going into all the stores I used to frequent when I lived there. Around 4:30 or so we both were a little hungry so we decided to stop for a bagel, sit outside, and enjoy the splendor of the day. After another hour and a half of walking around Kikar Tzion (Tzion Square) and Ben Yahuda, we made our way near the Old City. Outside of the Old City is the big Mamilla Mall so we decided to go there first, just to see if there was anything we HAD to buy :-). After an hour or so there, we finally made it to my absolute favorite place in the whole entire world: Jerusalem's Old City.

Nothing can describe my elation when I stepped foot inside Jaffa Gate and entered Il-Ballad Il-Adeemeh (The Old City). A flood of emotions came to me; I was excited, happy, overwhelmed, and more. For those of you who have never been to the old city, there really is no way to describe it in a way that will do it's amazingness justice. As you walk through the stone streets you see a mix of all of the big religions (Jews, Christians, Muslims- both secular and religious) filling the streets; walking side by side one another. You will see the Lubuvitch and Haradeim (Ultra Orthodox) flocking to the Jewish Quarter and the Kotel (Western Wall), the Muslims walking the streets, stopping in shops, and going on their way to Al-Aqsa  Mosque to pray (especially now during the moth of Ramadan), and the Christian monks, nuns, and pilgrims on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was said to have been buried. The streets are crowded and noisy with children running around, shop owners beckoning in foreign customers (that they will most likely rip off), tourists running around trying to find various places within the walls of the Old City, and just the general chaos of a crowded market place that spans an entire city. As you are walking around you will see the Arab run shops where the owners are sitting outside drinking coffee, smoking hookah, or playing a game of backgammon while they wait for people to enter their shops. You hear a various mix of Israeli and Arabic music coming from each and every shop, house, caffe, and restaurant in the city, and it is loud, crowded, busy, and glorious beyond all description.

The first thing Susanna and I wanted to do was go to our hookah bar. This was a place we were at almost every day two years ago, and we made it a kind of home base. We loved the Palestinians who owned the bar, would practice our Arabic with them, and they would take my ipod, play my Arabic music, and we would sing, dance around, drink, and have the time of our lives. To my ultimate horror, our beloved bar had closed down a few months ago; my sadness was pretty severe. After we mourned for a few minutes we continued on our way through the Old City. One of the things I wanted to do was look at hostels incase I ever came back by myself and needed a place to stay for a few nights. Susanna knew of a few so we decided to walk around looking for them. Most of them were very nice, but one was out of this world extraordinary. It is called Citadel Youth Hostel and it looks like an underground cave that was converted into living quarters; simply stunning.

The best part about this Hostel, however, is that you can sleep on the roof. Now this might sound strange, but when you see this roof there is no wonder why people spend money to sleep on it. From the top of the hostel you can see the entire Old City in all of it's splendor and glory. You have a million dollar view for only a few shekels a night.

After hostel hunting there was one more place I had to go. The Kotel (Western Wall). There is no way you can go to the Old City and not see this historic and amazing place. We get to the Kotel around 10:30 or so and it is still packed with people. All of the Ultra Orthodox are walking to the wall to pray, tourists are flooding to put notes in the wall, and it is within the holy 9 day period before Tisha Ba'av (the day commemorating the destruction of both of our temples) so it was extra packed with people praying and visiting. You can't describe the felling you have at the wall, and it is hard to understand if you are not Jewish. It is hard to listen to people who say there is no God when you go to a place like the Kotel; standing so small in front of this big wall you can feel God all around you. You see people praying, crying, laughing, and you feel spirituality everywhere. It is such an overwhelming feeling being at the wall, and it makes you feel so special to be connected to something so holy; to come from a people and culture so deeply rooted in history and spirituality. I have always felt so special being Jewish, and more overall being Semitic, and every time I am somewhere like Jerusalem, or the old city, or the wall, it just reaffirms how lucky I am to come from such a rich and profound culture and history.

After the Kotel we spent a little more time walking around the Old City until  fatigue was starting to set in. We decided we should go get some food, and then go to another hookah bar in Jerusalem. Even if we didn't get to enjoy our special hookah bar, we weren't going to pass up the opportunity to go all together :-). We ate some good food, found another hookah spot, and spent the last hour or so of our time out enjoying the night, smoking some hookah, and taking in our day. Then we were off. I said my goodbyes to downtown and the Old City, and we walked back to Susanna's friend's apartment. It was a magical day, and I was so happy to be back. After a pretty good night sleep, Susanna and I got up today, had some coffee, walked around Jerusalem a little more, and then it was back to Tel Aviv. My time in Jerusalem was short but so filled with everything I wanted to do. Now that I know exactly what busses and Sheruts to take, I will have no problem getting back very frequently over the next year and a half. This trip reaffirmed that my heart is and always will be in this city, and it is a love affair that will be around forever (Inshallah v' Baruch Hashem). Now that I am home I am completely worn out so I will be using this Shabbat to rest and go to the beach!!! I also have to write my first page long composition entirely in Hebrew so that will take some work to do :-)

Stay tuned for my Shabbat update tomorrow!
Erev Tov ya Habibkum,
Jordana Simone

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