the streets of Jerusalem

where the old train used to run, a walkway, and a lane for bicycles

I noticed many years ago, that when people go around asking for advice regarding some problem they have, or decision they have to make, it often seems like they are checking out people’s opinion, until they run into an opinion that mirrors their true internal desire, and then, they give that friend or acquaintance the honor of having come up with the solution… and do what they wanted to do from the start.

a mirror in front of a frame shop

Which brings to mind one of my favorite stories about Sigmund Freud. He was riding in a train, sitting next to an acquaintance who wanted to take advantage of sitting next to this well known authority on the human mind. He told Freud about a complicated problem he had. The bottom line was that he had to make a decision between two choices, each of which had pluses and minuses. He asked the doctor for his opinion. Freud thought about it for a while, and then looked into the man’s face for a minute, and said, ‘I think you ought to flip a coin’. The man said nothing for a while… and finally admitted that he was expecting something more definite. After all, anyone could advise you to flip a coin. Freud, realizing that the man was disappointed, said, ‘when you look at what the coin indicates, you’ll know by your internal reaction, what it was that you really wanted to do’.

a building style that reminds me of my youth

In our tradition, we have something of an answer to this. As you can probably guess, there are many different Rabbis who have as many different opinions on a long list of religious dilemmas, and going to a Rabbi for a learned point of view, doesn’t mean that necessarily, you’ll only get one sort of answer. Of course, there are some issues on which all agree. But sometimes the answers you can get are wide apart. So our sages taught us that you can choose which Rabbi to go to, when wrestling with a quandary. But once you’ve asked him, and gotten his answer, you should accept it, and not keep asking until you get the sort of answer that pleases you.

in a newer part of town

And if you’re asking how I got to this subject in the first place, I was told by a reader that what he liked most about my blog, were the back streets of Jerusalem, that a tourist might not run into, but that I show in my blog after one of my daily walks. No sooner had I read that, then I was planning a four part study of the back streets of my town… but then I thought, ‘What?, do I need an excuse to do it?’ The truth is that I have a great love for the streets of Jerusalem, and have many collections of such sets, filed according to the different neighborhoods. These photographs are not of the sort usually considered ‘street photography’. For street photography focuses on people doing unusual things, or combinations of images that provoke thought. I have done that too, on occasion. But I enjoy the mere documentation of the streets I love, and don’t publish such pictures often, because I fear that the innocent viewer might find himself bored by a line of houses sitting in the sun; not skyscrapers, and not wonders of architecture, but just photographed as a keepsake of this city I love.

the metal shutters were a necessary protection once

There is a context that I remember, that the viewer of the photos wouldn’t know… and it is within that context, that my feelings are remembered. There was a house, I used to park next to, when I was teaching at the college in the 90s, because often I’d hear a woman in an upstairs apartment singing through an open window as she worked. And another parking spot next to my studio, where the cats of the neighborhood used to greet me enthusiastically when I arrived. It wasn’t because I handed out freshly caught fish… I have no idea why they remembered me, and would always come around to say hello when I arrived, and often bid me goodbye when I left.

a shtiebel

And there are those very special one room synagogues, scattered around the town, where people will get together for a prayer, with great regularity. Sometimes it’s in an apartment, and sometimes it’s an old store, or even a bomb shelter, or a store room on the ground floor of an apartment building. We call them a shtiebel. The name comes from the Yiddish. More times than I can remember, I’ve been on my way from one place to another, with thoughts of work on my mind, when I’ve been approached by a stranger, who asked me to join in a prayer, which have to have a minimum of ten men for a forum, called a minyan. I would stop whatever I was doing, and join the company of complete strangers for a quarter of an hour… sometimes longer.

So, today, a few very personal souvenirs of the Jerusalem I love.


58 responses to “the streets of Jerusalem

  1. Thank you for sharing, Shimon … I have family members by the name of Stiebel … Feeling close to you. Love, cat.

    • Thank you for your comment, Cat. It could be you had a grandfather or great grandfather, somewhere back when, that used to take care of a place like that. Always good to hear from you.

  2. that’s a great freud story. it’s one of those things that we know in the back of our minds, but we don’t bring to the forefront until someone else, not surprisingly freud, mentions it. then we feel silly that we didn’t already know that. many times someone does just that, tosses a coin, and they don’t like the result so they say, “okay. two out of three.” exactly what freud said to look for.

    about the trains that no longer run – why not? was it an out-dated system? i love trains.

    • Glad you liked the story, brains. No need to feel silly about not knowing anything. The longer we live, the more we learn… and sometimes we need just the right moment to realize something by ourselves. But as long as we keep learning, all is well. I’ve been a student all my life. As for the trains, we have a new train now, with a station at the edge of town. Just recently the city started turning the old train tracks into little continuous parks that run through town. It’s quite nice.

      • oh, my name is rich. i use brains because i recently had an episode with someone who didn’t like me and was sort of “stalking” my blog, so i changed the name online.

  3. Memories where we live and lived how beautiful… Everything changed at the end, but memories… On the other hand to learn something about a city from someone’s memories is much more interesting for me… There is something that you know, it was lived; it was experienced… Another point for me, what makes a city, city? In my opinion, all these memories, experiences, lives,… at the end you become a part of city where you live… You know the city with her past and todays… Thank you dear Shimon, I enjoyed to read and to watch your photographs… I know how much you love cats… They know this, wherever you go, I am sure they would find you… Blessing and Happiness, with my love, nia

    • You’re so right, Nia. There are many many changes over a lifetime. Here and there, there are pieces of the city that remain the way I remember them a half a century ago… but so much has changed. And there’s a need sometimes, to recall what was. I was thinking of you when I posted these pictures, because I love the way you photograph your city, and it makes me feel a familiarity and a connection even though I have never been there. Thank you very much for your comment.

      • You are welcome dear Shimon, I feel the same familiarity too when I read or watch your post… Isn’t it interesting and so nice. I am so nostalgic one… I have so of my habits, for example my bookstore, my market, my pharmacy… even my cafe too but they all changed, disappeared and came new stores, new people… As if I am a foreigner to my own city… Also I know how the street was and what was there… also the stories too… Yes, I am so nostalgic dear Shimon. You are welcome. It is so nice to share with you, Thank you, have a nice day, with my love, nia

  4. Your personalized souvenirs offer much beauty and wisdom….thank you for sharing 🙂

  5. …dear Shimon….as a Christian, I hold the same love of Jerusalem as you do, but from a distance, as I have never visited. I think that if I had been there I might have only visited the ‘tourist spots’ and missed the lovely back streets you mention. But why are tourists only taken to the ‘famous’ places, when we can learn more about a city or country by seeing the ‘common’ places….washing on a line, children playing, a little corner cafe with locals chatting, a flowerpot in a window. I also have many photos of my childhood in the country, and places we have visited. But I now wish that I could put down on a picture, my memories of the simple things…places where we kicked a football, the dew on lettuces before we picked them, the taste of a fresh tomato, my bedroom and the view from its window, fishing in a stream, my best childhood friends, In fact, just the simple things, of no interest to anyone else….of such things is life made.

    • My dear Harry, I know you’re a traveler, and have gone to far off places, and seen things that others don’t necessarily see… But I have to tell you, that most tourists, try to get the most in, within a relatively short period of time, and they have little patience for the residential streets of an old city like ours. There are some amazing things to see too. When I used to travel, I never went on tours. I didn’t go that much to museums either. I would visit the bars, and the back places, and go to where music was played…I had some wonderful experiences, and felt I got to know other worlds… but it’s a very individual style of touring. If you ever do come to Jerusalem, I would be pleased to take you and your fine wife on a walk through the back streets of my town, just like I like to walk every day.

  6. I love the depth and “rounding out” such photos supply, Shimon, and I really love hearing about strangers pausing in their day and joining together for prayer–wholeheartedly–because they are invited to do so…Thank you.

    • Thank you very much, Catherine. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and that you found interest in the photos, and in our customs here. It is a pleasure to share in what I love.

  7. orlando gustilo

    I liked the picture of a shtiebel, and the idea that people stop in the middle of what they’re doing to drop in at a place where they can reconnect with what makes our lives sacred. My sister and I are visiting Israel in the fall and look forward to seeing this city that has so many layers of significance for the majority of the earth’s peoples, each layer resonating with the deep chambers of our collective consciousness. Our religious traditions, the practices and ideas, are a rich store of our experiences as human beings. It’s a pity that they are often cause for divisiveness and one-upmanship, for violence and for eruptions of self-centeredness, self-justification, arrogance and pride. Maybe someday we can all look at the various traditions as treasure houses where we can find forgotten or ignored tools to deal with life’s exigencies, regardless of whose tradition it is we are borrowing to renew perceptions and our activity in the world.

    • I’m glad you liked the shtiebel, Orlando. I realize from some of the comments I have received, that his is relatively unknown in other places. I understand what you say about the divisiveness… but our forefather, Abraham, solved this problem, when it raised its head between his family and that of his nephew Lot. He said, you go your way, and I’ll go my way… and let Lot choose first. This has been the example I’ve adopted too. As long as someone isn’t physically attacking me, I like to look for what we have in common, and not what separates us. As for traditions, I believe that we can learn from one another. But I think it is important to have a cohesive understanding of our own traditions first, because there is so much character and continuity in tradition. Sometimes, in this modern world, people take a little of this and a little of that… and end up with a soup that doesn’t really have its own inherent taste, and isn’t that sustaining. Thank you for your comment. You always have an interesting point of view.

  8. orlando gustilo

    Oh, and I join you in celebrating Pesach, surely an idea and tradition that have helped shaped our communal search for individual freedom and in particular the evolution of freedom in Western civilization. The seder itself is beautiful as well as instructive on many levels.

    • Thank you very much, for your words about Pesach, which is known in English as Passover, and soon upon us. The seder is truly a very educational experience, and I hope to write a post on the subject before the holiday.

  9. I can see how you might wonder whether these pictures are boring to us or not, I often do the same. Simply think, ahhh, no… they don’t want to see this. But now that you state this so obviously all I can think is YES I do want to see these pictures of those seemingly uninteresting streets. To me they mean that I get to see a fuller picture of what Jerusalem is like. And they show me who you are. Because if they are important to you your personality shows and I love that. So wise lesson learnt here, I am going to try to think more for myself when posting my pictures/art and poetry instead of what others might think of them 😀 So keep them coming Shimon! Show me Jerusalem and show me who you are.

    • Thank you so much M, for strengthening my desire to share things that are not necessarily sensational. I liked what you said, and I know it’s true that I too enjoy getting to know the environments of other people I follow on blogs. Best wishes.

  10. Another uplifting … and wonderfully enriching post. My first reaction was joy at seeing those photos you thought might be too modest or lacking excitement … to me the simple beauty of a casual glance down a road is far more precious that the glossy artifice of so many photographers more driven by ego than truly connected to their subjects. And you are truly connected.

    And the Shtiebel …. I had never heard of this custom. It is so beautiful it could change the world. Imagine little niches set up randomly around a city … offering the opportunity for a moment of prayer. Imagine a stranger beckoning you to join for a few moments in worship. and standing side by side connecting with that Force which connects us all. Imagine!

    • Thank you very much, N. What you say is so much like what I think when I follow someone else’s blog… but I did have that moment when I thought I was concentrating too much on myself… Yes, from a number of mails and comments, I realize that the shtiebel and the minyan is not so known outside the community, and so I was glad to be able to share that very unique quality of our life here. You can imagine, that sometimes, I don’t feel like it… all my thoughts are on something else, and it just seems like a bother to me. But usually, even if I do it in the beginning as a kindness to others, after a while I get into the spirit of the experience.

  11. How wonderful to be approached by a stranger and asked to join in prayer–and wonderful that you do! I have never heard of this practice before. Here we seem to talk about prayer without actually praying. Sad…

    • I think that one of the problems in modern society, is that people have become more fragmented. There has been such an emphasis on the individual, and individual accomplishments, that we’ve forgotten about the community, which can be a very important part of our world. Thank you very much for your comment, Patricia.

  12. I always love seeing your photographs of Jerusalem and especially your descriptions of the daily events. It is something that I have desired to learn for a long time. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’m very glad to hear that you enjoy these pictures of Jerusalem. Always good to hear from you BoJo. You know it’s a little hard for me to hook up with your new blog for some reason. It was easier on wordpresss.

      • Yea, it is not near as easy as wordpress. I only changed as it is directly connected to my website and creates better search results for my website. I hated to move.

  13. Please keep sharing your photos. You see how we all love them and how we enjoy your commentary.

  14. I love the photos of the buildings. I like to see the style in which they are built.

  15. Thanks Shimon, for showing us the other side of Jerusalem, It’s always interesting to me, to see how others live. I like street documentation too – I find it really interesting as many don’t seem to take photos of the ‘normal/everyday’. For me, it is the most interesting!

    • Glad you liked it, Marina. I too like to see the environment of where my friends live, and I know that you’ve really developed that sort of story telling. And I’m getting the impression that others like it too. Thank you for your comment.

  16. Pingback: Grateful for the Altitude; Grateful for the Time | Marina Chetner

  17. I think one of the bonuses of blogging for me has been to take such walks, with strangers (originally) through their lives, be it in the kitchen, their place of work, their garden, their town. I get to peer in at worlds I have yet to see and experience. Maybe start to understand them a little bit more, maybe they raise more questions, For me, it’s a joy.

    • I can agree with you on that… though usually it only interests me if I first have an interest in the blogger based on something else… character, interests, or style… there are so many possibilities… but then if I have an interest in that blogger, I do have a desire to get to know him better. It frustrates me when I don’t see a face, for instance…

  18. Shimon, I’m so pleased to see these photographs and to learn more about the places and streets that are important to you and have touched your life.

    • Thank you very much, Lemony. That is exactly what I enjoy writing about… places as well as people, and ideas and studies that have influenced me. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  19. A woman singing through an open window? Neighborhood cats gathering anywhere in a town? Strangers asking you to join in a kind of impromptu communion? I cannot imagine such a warm and friendly environment. I have not lived in a house designed for opening windows since I was a child. A gathering of cats would never be tolerated in my town. Should anybody ask a stranger to join in a prayer inside a building in the USA, he might find himself arrested.

    Your description of your city makes me sad for my own loss of community. You have made me understand why I develop small relationships with the clerks, waitresses, shop owners, bank tellers, etc., all over town. I am attempting to recreate the community of my childhood. Thank you for this walk through your streets and the introspective trip through my own.

    • There is so much we take for granted in our lives. Actually, I try very hard not to take things for granted… to be wide awake and appreciate everything that happens around me. I really can’t imagine what it would be like living in a house where you can’t open the windows. It sounds like science fiction to me. I too, like to relate to clerks, waitresses, and shop owners. I suppose there is a certain alienation in all cities, and I don’t care for that much. But I would say that community is very much a part of our life here in Jerusalem. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, George.

  20. What lovely images Shimon! One of the things that I love about your blog is that it gives me an insight into the daily life of people living in Jerusalem; the beautiful architecture inter-mingled with very modernised pieces. Your photographs are always so peaceful looking – and I’ve noticed the sky always seems to look very blue! xx

    • Glad you like the blog, Jen. At my age, the adventures have a little less pizzazz, and I have to admit, that peace means more to me than thrills… but I did have a lot of thrills in my youth. We do have gray skies too, and rain, and fog… but I think the blue skies are what give me inspiration. Thanks for coming by.

  21. Are you Jewish? I knew a Jewish gorilla once….

    • Yes, I’m Jewish… but it does surprise me to hear about that gorilla. You’d think a big ape like that would have more sense than to become Jewish. Now I have a cat who considers herself ‘a friend of the Jews’… but she hasn’t gone so far as to make a commitment. Thank you for coming by.

    • You are so sweet, Nia. And as you know, I do enjoy your work very much, and love your visits… but I have never accepted any awards, and won’t start now. It’s posted on my ‘about’ page. It’s just too solemn for a guy like me. But thanks for the thought.

  22. Lovely, lovely images..

  23. I’m glad that I got the walking tour on my second visit.

  24. Very interesting tour and your saying about remembering things and people made me think about one time when I revisited a small town where I spent a few years of my youth. Every alleys and yard had something, a time still alive with friends not there anymore but still so alive in my mind. Churches where I prayed and played music, the harbor where I dreamed of embarking toward far shores, the strangers I met there in those days, All that still alive in the moment. 🙂

    • Yes, it often seems that there are bits and pieces of us interwoven in the places where we have lived in the past. Thank you very much, Francis, for your comment.

  25. Lovely photographs-very interesting. I particularly enjoyed the advice of Sigmund Freud about decision-making. My daughter has to choose between colleges very soon, and I will suggest that she flip a coin!

    • Thank you, Naomi. Sometimes, the great thinkers are represented almost as cartoon characters, and so it’s good to remember that they did have some practical things to say about life. As a veteran college teacher myself, I would suggest to your daughter that she try and make contact with students who have studied in the colleges that interest her. That is usually a very good source of information.

  26. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Hi ShimonZ,
    You write so clearly well, and your photographs are clear also. I liked the mirror one in the doorway.
    I agree, but didn’t realise it until I read it by you, that yes, we do go about asking for opinions until one mirrors our own. I think that’s what we do, yes. Funny that.
    I had never heard of Freud & flipping the coin, but it is SO true that the internal reaction you get would tell you exactly the way to go.

    Really worthwhile post. Cheers, ShimonZ.

    • Thank you so much, Noeleen. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I agree with you about the mirror. It is wonderful, how sometimes, it’s enough just to put a frame around something that is already there. Thank you for your comment.

  27. האדם אינו אלא
    שאול טשרניחובסקי

    האדם אינו אלא קרקע ארץ קטנה,
    האדם אינו אלא תבנית נוף מולדתו,
    רק מה-שספגה אזנו עודה רעננה,
    רק מה-שספגה עינו טרם שבעה לראות,
    כל אשר פגע במשעולי-טללים ילד
    מתלבט, נכשל על כל גוש ועי-אדמה,
    בעוד בסתר נפשו ובלא-דע ערוך
    מזבח, עליו יקטיר מדי יום ביומו
    למלכת-השמים, לכוכב ומזלות.
    ואך ברבות הימים ובמלחמת-ישות,
    ומגלת ספר חייו הולכה מתפרשת, —
    ובאו אחד אחד, ויגלה פשר
    כל אות ואות וסמל סמל כל הבאות,
    שחקקו עליה בראשית בריתה, —
    האדם אינו אלא תבנית-נוף מולדתו.

    • אני מכיר את השיר הזה… וגם את שאר הבתים
      שלא הבאת לדף הזה…
      ושירתו מזכירה לי גם את האימה של ילדותי הנוראה,
      וגם את הגעגועים לציון, וכמיהה לגאולה לעם ישראל.
      לא יודע מה במאמר שלי הזכיר לך את המשורר,
      הסופר, והרופא הנפלא הזה…
      אבל אני מודה לך על כך שהבאת את מילותיו
      לחלקתי הצנועה בעולם הקיברנטי.
      ושמח שהכרתי אותך, בת נתניה
      היושבת בקרית מלאכי בקצה המערבי של ארה”ב…
      הפלאים של העולם הזה עדיין פותחים את לבי עוד קצת,
      והרהורי נפשי אינם נרגעים…

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