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.
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.
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.
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.
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…