a typical closed balcony

To a stranger, two brothers can seem very similar. But they themselves are aware of all the subtleties that differentiate between them. And so it is when we get to know someone new. To begin with, we get a first impression. As we get to know someone deeper, we learn their unique qualities, their weaknesses, their idiosyncrasies… that’s getting to know the real person. And actually, living in the neighborhoods of my beloved city is a lot like that. It’s like getting to know people.

the local grocery store open 24 hours a day

When I moved back to Jerusalem from the village, I moved to a neighborhood I knew well. The Moshavah, it’s called, and it’s on the southern side of the city. I have friends who live there, I’d worked there for quite some years. It’s a very comfortable neighborhood that I’ve known almost as well as the neighborhood in which I’ve lived for the last forty years. I knew the stores and the public places… the Smadar movie house, where I’d seen Zorba the Greek, and The Godfather. The bars, and the synagogues, and the parking lots that just the locals know… It’s is a neighborhood of very liberal and open minded Israelis. You can hear English spoken on the streets. There are a lot of young people too. Some of them pushing baby carriages. And there’s a market that’s open 24 hours a day, and a supermarket where you can find just about anything you need.


And now, having moved out of that temporary apartment, and found another, I’m in the very next neighborhood, Katamon. The people here are a bit older. There are less foreigners, though there are a few international organizations that have their headquarters here. But I just hear Hebrew spoken on the street. There are much fewer pubs and public houses. I have to walk farther to get to a grocery store, though I did find one that was open 24 hours a day. Parking is still a problem. I see old people taking their walks when I do… some of them making their way with the help of a cane or crutches. People go to sleep earlier. There are fewer dogs; more cats. I like the neighborhood. It’s quite calm. And it’s not far to walk, if I want to go to a restaurant or buy some things in the supermarket of the old neighborhood.

the study of winged creatures

Way back when I started out, I used to live in the northern part of town, where religion plays a more important part in the lives of the citizens. In those days I lived near the Buchari market place, and could see the mood of the people just by going out on my balcony. There were always people in the street, and in the evenings it was quite common for someone to mount a radio in the window of some upstairs apartment, providing music and entertainment for the crowd below. When it was time for prayer, a call would be heard, and people would stop what they were doing to join in prayer. Three times a week, the ice man would make his way through the streets, calling ice, ice… and people would come out of their houses to stock up on ice which was used to keep perishables cool in ice boxes. All that is part of the past now. You don’t even hear music in the streets. If someone wants to hear music, he has earphones installed in his ears.

a seminary for talmudic studies

But what you do see nowadays, is people walking alone and carrying on a conversation. Back in the old days, that would have been a sure sign of madness. Now it’s completely normal. Sometimes, I slow down and listen to one of these conversations… a man arguing with his wife or his ex. You can hear the frustration and exasperation. But it’s not just in his mind. He’s got his cell phone connected to an ear phone in his ear, with a microphone attached to the ear phone wire, close to his jaw.

a restaurant in a tent

From there I moved to the city center, which was really the center of life back in those days… before the Malchah mall pulled most of the customers away… the center of work and of commerce. There was always something happening, and the social life was distributed between the bars and the coffee houses, the many book stores, the hotels and the restaurants. There was a coffee house I used to go to so regularly that my friends would often call me there on the telephone. And from there I moved to Talpiot in the south eastern corner of the city, where people lived in roomier stone houses, and had pleasant little gardens between the houses, and tall trees that provided shade on summer afternoons. In those days the city was divided between Jordan and Israel, and from time to time bullets would fly… when some crazy Jordanian soldier could restrain himself no longer. But all the same, the atmosphere in that neighborhood was rather peaceful and friendly. I knew most of my neighbors. And it was hard to take a walk without stopping frequently to exchange polite comments with neighbors in that area. On Saturday afternoons we would walk to the kibbutz at the very end of town, and back. Great exercise, and always a bit of adventure.


And then there was a relatively short period when I lived in Bayit V’gan, a very clean and orderly sort of neighborhood, populated by religious Zionists who all looked rather similar till you got to know them well. They were young for the most part… and modern. They walked a lot. Spent a lot of time with their children. And from there… back to the northern part of the city, where the Jewish ingredient is stronger than all the tastes and subtleties picked up and adopted in two thousand years of wandering and homelessness… and a synagogue that was the very epitome of peace and respect for the individual, as well as respect for god, without politics or intrigue. The new home that I’ve bought is just one neighborhood away from my old home…

the bloom of an almond tree


74 responses to “neighborhoods

  1. How beautiful, almond tree… seems that Spring is there… Beautiful post, Thank you dear Shimon, it is so nice to travel through your photographs and words… Have a nice weekend, Love, nia

    • There is something unusual about the weather this winter. And unfortunately, it’s not good for the wildlife, nor for agriculture. But similar things have happened in the past, and I expect that we will have some very unusual weather in the future too. If the birds think it’s spring before the right time, the will reproduce and then not find food to nurture their young. And the little chicks will die. But meantime we can find some consolation in such a beautiful sight as the almond tree/ Thank you so much for your comment, Nia… and your good wishes. Hope this is a beautiful weekend for you too.

  2. Dear Shimon,
    It is fascinating to hear you describe not only the many different characters of neighborhoods, but your own person life journey from one to the next. I wish you great happiness as you settle in to your new home. And I look forward to hearing about it and seeing more of your wonderful photographs!

    • I have already started visiting the new home, to spend time with my cat, Nechama, who moved in before me. They’ve had to rebuild most of the inside of the house, so it took more time than was expected, but it already look very nice. Thanks so much for your good wishes, Naomi.

  3. Thank you for a wonderful tour of your beautiful city. I haven’t been back to Israel since 2010 — when our kids moved back– and do miss the bright sun and scenes you describe.

  4. It’s interesting isn’t it. The more things change the more they stay the same. I love your pictures of the neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. Growing up, I spent my summers in Bat Yam with family and remember those closed balconies and spending many an evening spending time on the balcony watching TV, socializing and looking out on the street.

    • Especially because of the technological revolution… some things seem to change very quickly, while other things… like our life style here in Israel, stay pretty much the same. I can well imagine your experiences on the balcony. That is a very special place whether closed or open. They bring back memories for me too, Edith. Thanks for your comment.

  5. I’ve just spent the last little while catching up on your entries, Shimon. It’s a lovely way to start the day; your musings are medative in a way, even with those bits of unsettledness. It seems to me that organizing thoughts in this manner can be very grounding.
    It’s wonderful that you have found a new home, congratulations! I know you will fill it with beauty and wonder.
    Best wishes,

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the read, Karen. Thanks. I do have a new home which is undergoing repairs and improvements. It’s still not ready. Meantime, I’ve had the questionable pleasure of shifting and moving from one place to another. It’s been a learning experience. I do look forward to a return to the steady life… But I’ve learned a lot from the experience.

  6. What an interesting way to tell a story, through your personal homes in the city. I hope your new home is ready very soon.

  7. Things have changed so much; thank you for a short walk through some of your neighborhoods. I’m reminded of living in China…enclosed balconies…people talking to no one in sight; cell phones plugged into ever so many ears! Oh yes, those were ‘the’ days my friend…we tho’t they’d never end (according to a song in the past). Thank you for your thoughts.
    Enjoy the day.

    • I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting China. It seems a wonderful world though… and another ancient culture. I do love balconies, and though some people think they’ve got very good reasons for closing them in, I often feel they’ve lost the very best part of the home… Thanks for your comment, Vasca.

  8. Thank you for walk us through the changes you have had, Mr. Shimon. These are beautiful neighborhood. Location change can be stressful to say the least.

    • It has been a learning experience… but also, as you say, stressful. I am glad though, that I had the opportunity to see how some others live. Thank you for your comment, Amy.

  9. How lovely to learn so much about your city’s many neighborhoods and the spirit that enlivens them…the essence of moving through such spaces, lingering for a time and moving on, ever homeward is fascinating, Shimon. The photographs are so clear, bright and sunny: what a boon for us still in the throes of winter. I especially love the cat contemplating winged creatures.

    I do hope your present home will give you comfort and joy! Thank you for a lovely, lovely post.

    • Yes, sometimes I think that if we could study things the way the cats do, our learning process would be improved. These moves I’ve had recently, have been something of a journey. I recall how in my youth, I moved from country to country, across continents… and realize that this journey I’ve had in my own city, is no less impressive. Thanks for the comment and good wishes, Kitty.

  10. One of the many many things that I love about Jerusalem is how every street is its own entity. Even with the similarity of the stones, each one is a neighborhood. Shabbat Shalom.

    • You’re right mysending… there are little mini neighborhoods all over Jerusalem… sometimes it’s a few homes, or a street, or a few streets around a particular synagogue. There are many mini communities, with all the troubles and joys that we know so well in community life. It’s a world I love very dearly.

  11. I loved the photo of the cat, Shimon – wonderful composition! I enjoyed the tour of the City of Jerusalem through your experience of it. And, as always, your great writing. Thank you, my friend.

    • Thank you Cathy… I always seem to notice the cat life on the streets here. They live in a parallel universe right next to us, and our lives just barely touch. But when they do… the possibilities are endless. Always very good to hear from you, my friend… as it is to view the fruit of your own adventures.

  12. I very much enjoyed this beautiful walk through your city, Shimon. I share your love of the flavor and dynamics of neighborhoods. Peace Shimon…

    • Thank you very much, Jana. As beautiful and as sovereign as we are, as human beings, we’re always part of something bigger too. The community, the city, the nation… we move from one plane to another… and yet it is all interconnected. In your poetry, I often hear the longing for those planes beyond the human experience as well…

  13. So enjoyed our walk together through you life and your beautiful city, Shimon … still winter here in Alberta … waiting for spring … 2 more months … smiles … Love,cat.

    • It’s winter here too, cat… though we’re getting signs of spring, and a few sunny days here and there. But it does stay cold most of the time. And we’re warned that the occasional ‘spring day’ can mislead the birds and the wild animals. Snakes are waking up before they should… Very glad you enjoyed the virtual visit to my beloved city. And I do like your smile. Thanks so much.

  14. Peace to you wherever your steps take you.. Roberta

  15. A fascinating read, Shimon.

  16. You write with such a love of your city – the neighbouroods, the people and of course the pubs and coffee shops. two other things – I’m intrigues by the closed in balconies – why close them off from the fresh air (I’ve seen photos before and I always wonder why) and secondly thank you for the almond tree in bloom, a favourite of mine.

    • Yes, I have a special love for almond trees too, Claire. I used to take a long walk with a friend of mine, every year when the almonds started blooming. He’s no longer with us to my regret. I prefer open balconies. But people tend to stay for very long periods in the same apartments here. And space is very critical. Even a balcony can be a room for someone, year round… and not too cold to enjoy in the winter. So you see a lot of closed balconies here in Jerusalem. But there are also some very beautiful open ones as well.

  17. This is a lovely construct, Shimon, revealing your home city, though the parts you have lived in. A city of neighbourhoods is very pleasing. We have rather lost this in the UK, due to some notion that it was good to separate commerce from habitation. It just tends to leave one with scary impersonal zones out of working hours. I hope your new temporary home suits your purposes until your real one is ready.

    • Well, if I was looking for something to complain about, I could organize a long list of what’s wrong with this newest temporary apartment. But it is interesting to see how others live, and there are also some delightful things about it. Aside from that, I’m beginning to feel like my exile is coming to a close pretty soon… and so, I’m able to be a bit more tolerant about the conditions. Thanks very much for your comment, Tish.

  18. Wonderful pictures, the blue skies and greenery cheered me up no end, it is so grim here of late. I loved the cat too and the almond blossom. I have planted an almond tree and am really looking forward to seeing it in bloom.
    I did enjoy hearing about all the different neighbourhoods, especially as it was back in the day. Your ice man reminded me of our rag and bone men, that I recall as a child, they would walk the streets with an old hand cart yelling,”Any old iron”, they actually took anything and always found a use for everybody’s old junk. xxx

    • We still have ‘rag men’ and I have to say that I find them quite amusing. I could tell some stories about them. But when it comes to old iron, we now have metal thieves, who will steal any metal they come across, including a piece of fence that’s not being watched or the railing from a stairway. It doesn’t happen that often, but there have been some stories that really got me upset… like when they stole sculpture to melt it down… Ah, but the cats and the almond blossoms keep me going. And there are a lot of beautiful things about this city that I truly love. We’re getting more and more blue skies lately, and that is beautiful even if its still cold. Wishing you a few days of blue skies, Dina. Wish I could send some in the mail. xxx

  19. As a natural explorer, one of the great pleasures each time I have moved house during my long life (and I’ve moved many many times), is to discover my new neighbourhood in more detail, just like you. And watching the changes taking place there over the duration of my residency; always finding new places that become regular haunts. The people I meet in those places tend to become ‘friends’ in a way, knowing them only superficially but in a friendly manner. Many good memories.

    • Yes, there are those very casual ‘friends’ that we get connected with… at a grocery store or in a library… sometimes because we just happen to go out for a walk at the same time every day. I do appreciate those minimalistic relationships. And it is very good to get to know a place by walking around. I don’t know if I could have survived moving that many times… but this year I got a generous helping of that. And it certainly has been an education. Thanks for your comment, Janina.

  20. I think you’ve wandered all of Jerusalem in your many years. It has become your city, Shimon. Now, I understand your longing to come back to the city from the village. You will be settled in your new home soon. I am eager to hear that you are there with Nechama and see the two of you wandering around the neighborhood! I enjoyed reading about your life in the city. The photographs Illustrate it well. Have a great weekend!

    • I think I can honestly say that I’ve learned to love Jerusalem from head to toes… my head, and my toes, of course. I will never know this city completely… there are always new worlds to discover… new mysteries unfolding. But learning to love Jerusalem has been a life long adventure which has brought me much joy. I am looking forward to exploring the new neighborhood with Nechama. We are going through the ups and downs of our reunion now. It’s not just pleasure. She’s rather upset with me right now that I am still off on my own and she feels jailed at the new home. And she was very turned off by my insistence that she wear a collar (so that the key to our home would be attached to her. She will have an electronic key that will open the door for her and close it to all others). Right now, she barely talks to me, but when I slept over on Saturday night, she did sneak into my bed when she thought I was already asleep… and lie next to my leg, holding it in her legs. Just for right now, she’d prefer I didn’t know how much she loves me… Thanks for the comment, George.

  21. Another enjoyable post, Shimon…things that I can relate to from having read about them, but not really experienced them in my lifetime. It seems that the sense of “neighborhood” and “community” have been more of notions than they have of reality. Thank you for the comfortable reflections for my Saturday morning coffee.

    • Thanks for coming by for the read, Scott. It’s true, though we all have something in common, there are differences in what life is all about, ever place we go… and wherever we live. Community can offer great strength to a person, and give him a sense of being part of a greater whole… but like love, it demands many sacrifices and compromises. These days, in your country, which is on the forefront of historical change, the emphasis is on liberty and self expression. And I believe there has been a sacrifice of community in order to give the individual greater importance. Only time will tell if it was worth it.

  22. A map of Jerusalem would be good.Would these names be shown anywhere?Not on Google Maps,I suppose

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Mary. As it happens, the maps I know and read are written in Hebrew, which is a language understood by only a very tiny portion of the world population… that’s one of the reasons I go to the trouble of writing about my life in English… hoping to communicate a bit of what’s happening here…

  23. I bet you cannot wait to get into your new abode. Scenes, perhaps, will merge less, and offer you sharper and interesting contrasts, also soft and pleasant relaxation and a whole range of activities and aromas with which to identify.

    • I have to admit, menhir… that it’s true; I can’t wait to get to my new abode. I am tired of the temporary nature of my life during this moving period… and would like more stability and comfort. I have learned so much from this experience, that I feel I shouldn’t be so anxious to rest… but that’s the truth. Thanks for your comment.

  24. I walked by your side, letting your descriptions of the craved past
    and longed present guide me… How to take a stroll around that beautiful Jerusalem!
    Time changes, habits changes, we change too (in fact) but it is since always like that .. I do not think things may can change in the future ‘case we can’t stop the progress.
    I’m glad you find in your memory traces of the good past & memories, sometimes, I know, it can also be a painful… but this is life, Shimon, one day we will be dust and what will remain of us will be the shadow of a memory connected only to this ephemeral presence.
    Thank you for this… and have a peaceful Sunday 🙂 claudine

    • So true, your thoughts, Claudine… memories bring great richness and delight at times… and pain as well. That’s why it’s good not to spend too much time with them… to visit them momentarily, and then go on with the present, which as you point out, is always changing. Thank you very much for your beautiful comment. It is always a pleasure to hear from you… and what you say gives depth to my experience.

  25. janetweightreed10

    I love these tours of your wonderful city….and your photographs are beautiful. I especially like the cat, of course, and the last one with the almond tree.
    It seems to me that your life is being enriched with this period of being transient…..memories are coming to the fore new ideas and thoughts as well. It’s fascinating how cities change from quarter to quarter….people, animals, transportation – it all continues to change and evolve.
    Have a wonderful weekend in your new flat:)x

    • You’re so right, my dear friend, Janet. But though my life has been enriched by this latest voyage, it’s also been a wearing experience. And I am beginning to fantasize about routines, and easy living. I am still living in a temporary flat, but beginning to spend time in my new home, if just to renew my connection with Nechama. As you can imagine, my cat harbors resentment towards me these days… she’s not quick to forgive our long separation. But I hope that our reunion will compensate in some way for the difficulties she’s gone through…

  26. The Moshavah certainly was a beautiful part of Jerusalem. Quite an eclectic mix of culture, sights, smells and sounds.

    I had fun pulling it up on Google Maps and “walking” down the streets again.

    • Yes, it is a special pleasure to remember that you walked these same streets with me not so long ago. There is much to enjoy here… and I keep adding to my memories and pictures of the subtleties found behind the scenes. Thanks, Bill.

  27. A lovely piece which has brightened my day …. confined to bed by a flu for several days with my mind is wandering a bit. Your tour through Jerusalem with all the subtle nuances of each neighborhood took me back to Bombay where I gathered together my old memories … and could now rejoice in the differences of the various enclaves, running the images through my mind like a private screening of a film.
    Your first photo is wonderful. An “eccentric” building if one might term a building as such. The “floating” balconies are so familiar and I love to think there are more of these wonderful structures in various cities around the world.
    Happy to hear your new home ia awaiting your arrival …

    • Sorry to hear that you are fighting the flu, Nikki. I had such a trial as well a while back. And I know how difficult that can be. Yes, some buildings can be quite eccentric and have very unique personalities. I’ve known a few. Usually we take them for granted… and it’s the passing stranger who notices them. But because of my move from one home to another, I’ve had the rare pleasure of being a stranger in my own city for a while, and I learned quite a bit from that experience.

  28. I think I took a walking tour of Jerusalem tonight! I miss neighborhoods and walking, so what a lovely post to read and see. Great caption for the contemplating cat–funny. Oh, I think people who appear to be talking to themselves but aren’t are still mad. I can do without much of the technology most people feel is so necessary these days and I also believe we should all spend enough time in a coffee house at some point in life that people just call us there. Your post was nostalgic for me, but from different parts of the world.
    Leah x

    • Glad that I was able to share the walking tour of Jerusalem with you, Leah. I have to admit that I too find technology very fascinating… even though I’m not always able to keep up. I like watching the enthusiasm with which others adopt every new bit of magic. But I maintain my connection with a lot of the old magic. I have seen a lot of changes in my life, and it does seem to me that these are very good times. But on rare moments, I’m willing to wax nostalgia too. Thanks very much for your comment.

  29. A wonderful post Shimon. I hope one day to visit Jerusalem and to hear you talking about the different neigbourhoods makes me want to visit all the more. Thank you for post, it’s always such a pleasure.

    • Very glad that I’m able to communicate my love for this city with you, Chillbrook. I do hope that you will get to know the place through your own eyes, and I look forward to seeing your interpretation of this place in your photography. Everyone who visits sees things a little differently. And it is often a pleasure for me to see the city through other eyes.

  30. When I think of trying to describe all the places I’ve lived, I am overwhelmed. But you make it look so easy. You carry us, generously, along with you in time and place. It all feels reasonable, and the photos are so well done. “The study of winged creatures” indeed! 🙂 (I love the almond tree in bloom!).

    • Because I enjoy your photography so much, bluebrightly, it is a special pleasure to know that you’ve enjoyed mine. Yes, some of us are forced to move more often than others. I enjoyed 40 years in the same home, and with the same environment… and it was heartbreaking to leave it behind me. But meantime, I’ve caught up, it seems, with some of what I missed during all those years. The almond trees are truly a delight.

  31. As always, I can immerse myself in your lyricism. Marvelous.

  32. It’s a pity it’s been such a cold winter while you’ve been travelling about but I admire your attitude.

    • Thank you, cool lady. The winter has added its burden… and I’m growing weary too. But it seems that the time is nearing for me to make the final leap to my new home.

  33. Sorry I’m not able to read all the comments to this post as I’m sure they’re interesting. I’m just back from burying my Dad of 100 yrs 6 months. Was easier on me than my Mothers death some 10+ yrs ago. In my mind, it appears you’ve moved quite a bit and I wonder why as here, in general we move about 3 times in our life. Wishing you a wonderful spring with lots of pix to come.

    • I got your letter Bob, and have been meaning to write you about what we’ve both been going through. Having lost my mother a little over a hear ago, when she too was over a hundred years old, made me realize that even when the time has come for people to leave this earth… it is always a wrenching experience to lose a parent. We are orphans now… finally… even though we are too old to enjoy the status. There are thoughts and memories that are difficult to share now. I’ve been so distracted by certain challenges, that I’ve found it difficult to write recently… but you will hear from me soon. My condolences.

  34. Speaking of similar brothers: I once knew two identical twins. In the beginning I just said “Hey Twin” when I spoke to either one of them, because I couldn’t tell the difference. As I got to know them better, I couldn’t understand how I wasn’t able to see the differences between them, because they were so different, both in looks and personality.

    I have another story of twins too, but that’s about two sisters and let’s just leave it at that…

    • Similar to the phenomenon of people who live in a predominantly white society thinking that all Black people look the same. Or that all Chinamen look the same. The less we know about a subject, the more we rely on certain outstanding points of recognition. As we learn more, we become aware of the subtleties. Nice to hear from you, Cardinal.

  35. I really enjoyed reading about your “journey” around the city – have you read Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino? Love your pictures, Shimon.

    • I’ve heard of the book, and it was translated to Hebrew, but I haven’t read it. Perhaps I will now. Thanks for your recommendation. Glad you liked the post, Richard.

  36. Jerusalem is a name that for so many foreigners evokes a myriad of images and tales save for that of neighborhoods of people. just people: not governments, not nations, not religions, not history. just, “hi, how’s it going?” “ah, not so good. a cat ate my bird, but that’s my fault for hiding it in a bush instead of at home.”

    • Yes, Marit… cities can be like people in some ways. We get to know about a celebrity… romance and fashion… and where he or she goes for their entertainment… and sometimes we forget that they get up in the morning and brush their teeth, and then grab a cup of coffee,,, just like the rest of us do… We have lots of birds here. I’ve not written much about them. But they’re very interesting. Israel is a stopping off place for many birds on their way back and forth from Europe to Africa… and there are local birds that hang out in very specific places around the city. I guess it’s nice for them because there are many high trees… Thanks for your comment.

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