my kind of town

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walls of the old city and David’s Tower

In an ancient city, such as Jerusalem, a study of history leads one to an ironic perspective. Some of the finest neighborhoods of the past are overcrowded and burdened by poverty, while other neighborhoods which were once occupied by the helpless and poor now feature the most expensive housing available. In the west, this phenomenon is known as ‘gentrification’. Yesterday, while walking from Mamilla through Yemin Moshe, opposite the walls of the old city, and marveling at the beauty of the place, I couldn’t help but remember its history.

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a glimpse into the old city through one of the gates

Yemin Moshe was built as the first neighborhood outside of the walls. And in 1860, only the poor and desperate were willing to live there because it seemed exposed to danger. But the over crowding in the old city was difficult to bear, and little by little more streets and homes were built outside the walls. Today, the old city only holds a fraction of the city’s population, with most people enjoying a more comfortable life in what is now called the western part of the city.

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And those first neighborhoods, outside of the walls, which were once filled with small apartments, most of them having only 1½ rooms of living space, after having been repeatedly damaged by two wars and numerous acts of aggression by our neighbors, have since been rebuilt, and are now the most beautiful and luxurious areas of town. The poor, of course, were given minimal compensation for their property. And some of them still harbor resentment when seeing what has become of the area where they used to live.

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The Teddy Park, named after our legendary and longest reigning mayor ever, is a recent addition, hosting children during the day, and tourists in the evening and night. Slightly behind it, is the first row of houses built in this neighborhood, which was turned into guest housing in the 70s for visiting men and women of letters, artists and musicians. The environment is considered ideal for the creative process. There is also a music center there which was inaugurated by Pablo Casals.

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Within easy walking distance, one can visit a concert stadium, or the Jerusalem Cinematheque which moved to this location, close to the city walls, in the early 80s. My walk in the neighborhood yesterday concentrated on the little lanes and foot paths of the neighborhood, where cars have no access. Though overlooking the main highway which circles the walls and then continues by the Cinematheque, the inner neighborhood is very calm and quiet, decorated by a never ending assortment of attractive plant life and cultivated gardens.

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I went all the way, past the windmill erected by Moses Montefiore at the end of the 19th century in order to provide jobs and inexpensive bread to the population, and reached the Lions’ Fountain, which is in itself a public landmark. Perhaps I’ll post a number of pictures of that, one of these days, together with some thoughts about sculpture and the Jewish people. It’s an interesting subject.

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Similar homes to these can be seen in many other neighborhoods of the city, but they seem to have reached an ideal of balance and aesthetics here. For they were renovated in the last forty years, and many of the residents have a leaning towards the arts. Because space is at a premium, most of the houses are modest in size. Some of the gardens are tiny. But there is impressive scenery all around, and public gardens which serve all.

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There’s a foot bridge which stretches over the cross-town highway, from this neighborhood to the Cinematheque, and the view of the city walls and the Hinnom valley from that bridge is so impressive that I have gone there many times just to photograph the scenery. It invites panoramic photography. I’m very fond of the panoramic format, but have been reluctant to share those photos on the blog because they are far less impressive when viewed on the computer screen.

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you can see a glimpse of the windmill there in the background

Which brings to mind a tension I have felt at times, when writing my blog. If a picture is, in fact, worth a thousand words, just how many photos dare I use as illustrations between the lines of my text, without overwhelming the blog post? Some time back, I planned to link certain blog posts to collections of photos on the same subject. But that takes quite a bit of time. And because I wanted the immediacy of telling my story shortly after having lived the experience, I haven’t yet explored this possibility. For instance, if I were to provide such a link some weeks or months after publishing this blog post, it would have much less exposure than the original article. Ah, I just got an idea…

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this wonderful water fountain has been built to offer its water to everyone. for all sizes. it offers a comfortable drinking height to grownups and children. the bowl at the bottom gives drink to pets and birds as well

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55 responses to “my kind of town

  1. What a beautiful city, Shimon. I really enjoy the photos that you share on your blog. You do a wonderful job of illustrating your essays and highlighting your points with these great shots. I would so love to see Jerusalem in person someday, but in the meantime your posts give me a glimpse of its beauty. Thank you.

    • Fortunately, more people communicate with. and get to know Jerusalem, than ever before in history. There are courses given here, and information shared… the internet has turned out to be a great vehicle for bringing us out of our geographic isolation. And airplanes too, now provide us with easy transportation. I have actually had readers of my blog show up. A few years back, that would have been impossible. Thanks very much for your comment, Cathy.

  2. Nice balance of prose and photos. You capture the changes in Jerusalem very well. Always the catch with urban renewal projects– replacing poor quality housing with better, but where do the people go? And then the property prices are so high only the very wealthy can live in cities. Happening all over.

    • Yes, it’s a serious problem. Especially in the big and famous cities, which have a great attraction. Here in Israel we’ve been working on improved transportation, especially rails, that are mean’t to bridge between the big cities and small and medium towns where many of our young people have chosen to live. When I compare the situation to what it was a half a century ago, it does seem that we are making amazing progress. Thanks for your comment, Lisa.

  3. Richard Ebstein

    A very beautiful and informative description of Jerusalem of truly Gold in the most metaphorical of senses. A city for all mankind that the Jews since 1967 have made accessible to all religions and all humanity. Come and enjoy this holy and wonderful place as so lovely described by Shimon in his blog.

    • I join you, Richard, in an open invitation to all our readers, to come and enjoy our wonderful city themselves. In just a little while, we’ll be having the Israel Festival here in Jerusalem, for most of the summer, with music, theater and the arts available in different venues here, almost every day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know our dear city.

  4. Beautiful photographs and city, dear Shimon. I enjoyed so much. The windmill is one of them, made me excited to see one of them. But of course with your expressions everything is so beautiful and I dream still to visit your country. Thank you, have a nice weekend and enjoyable week, love, nia

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Nia. I will have to post some more pictures of our windmill. If I remember correctly, there is at least one more that is still standing, and they do add something to the scene. It would be wonderful to have you visit. Thanks for your good wishes. And I wish you too a very beautiful week ahead.

  5. I love your photo tours. It’s such a pleasure to visit places I want to see but finances make it impossible. Thank you for sharing your home.

    • Thanks so much, Judy. It is wonderful that we live in an age when it is possible to get to see so many far away places, and meet people from different cultures… I am grateful that I have lived to see such wonders.

  6. I greatly enjoy your photo and writing tours and wanderings. You capture nicely the feel and location with a great balance of voice and photos.

    • Very sweet of you to say so, shoes. This is a new medium for all of us, and I often wonder about the people on the other end of the conversation… if someone is reading my blog on his or her cell phone, while waiting in line at the supermarket, or on a fast moving train to the suburbs…

  7. Not only have you given us some beautiful photographs to enjoy and a description of the city, you’ve also given us a lot to think about. I suppose that taking from the poor and giving it to those that can pay top dollar is not exclusive to the United States. It seems to be universal. Very sad.

    • Well, the situation isn’t quite as bleak as you’ve described it here, Corina. When the renovation of the neighborhood began, the people who were living there received nice new apartments in exchange for their run down and deteriorated digs. One could say that their conditions improved dramatically. But I can imagine that when they walk down their old street, and see all the fine houses now, hearts do ache occasionally. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Beautiful photos. Thanks for the guided tour.

  9. A fascinating tour, Shimon. It’s interesting to see how the neighbourhoods have evolved into upscale, lovely enclaves. And a good balance of text and photos too.

    • Yes, it is amazing… especially for those of us who are older. I remember buying stationary supplies in a little store in the neighborhood which has since been replaced by a very elegant building. Thanks for your comment, Tish.

  10. I’ve never seen a public fountain that served animals as well. Enchanting for sure. I certainly look forward to the images you’ve talked about posting. Living in an ancient city with it’s history, anything you write is absorbed quite well. I wonder if the houses outside (west?) follow the same architectural style. Oh, and your statement about Jewish people and sculptures has me drooling. 🙂 Please hurry with it.
    Be well, and be happy.

    • There are differences in the way the houses are built… differences caused by the period in which they were built, financial considerations, and style. But because almost all the buildings here are built of what is called ‘Jerusalem stone’. they do look quite alike. For a very long time, it was unusual to build a building higher than three or four stories. But about forty years ago they started building a lot of 6 and 8 story houses, and now there are real ‘high rise’ buildings as well. Thanks for the comment, Bob.

  11. A great walk around Jerusalem.

    I feel that links to sets of photos, though interesting as they may be, are an emphasised separation from any words. I have ‘walked’ through photographers galleries, some being better than others. Some pictures said all that needed to be said, others would have benefitted from some commentary.

    I like your associated words and your perspectives, they bring added life to your lovely photos and sometimes, evoke memories of places I have visited and places I have seen. They are brought back into focus. Perhaps, we can be invited to ‘walk’ further with you with a link, after benefitting from your personal presentation.

    • Thank you for your good advice, menhir. It’s really an interesting exercise to try and imagine how others see my work, though it’s always a challenge to try and see ourselves from the outside. So glad that these ‘local walks’ bring back good memories.

  12. I love your photos, your writing…don’t change a thing!

  13. Always enjoy your photos and thoughts.

  14. I always enjoy your walks round your beloved city and your reflections. Do most people live in flats, or houses? The juxtaposition of greenery and sympathetic building lifts my spirits.

    • Though there are a few ‘one family’ houses, the great majority of the population here in Jerusalem, live in apartments. Some are much finer than others. And more than half the citizenry live in condominiums, as do I. These are actually private property, and we pay taxes on them, and they can be bought and sold just like a stand alone building in other places. Glad you enjoyed the post, Gill.

  15. Thank you so much for the tour Shimon. A fascinating place for sure!

    • It is my pleasure share this place with you, Chillbrook. As a photographer, you might find it interesting to hear that I wanted to make post cards to sell many years ago. But it turned out that the competition was so intense, that it looked hard to make a decent living in that way. Now, after all these years, I finally have an opportunity to share my love for the city with others, without worrying about remuneration.

  16. In my view you can’t post too many pictures, nor write too many words. I find your blog transportive in so many ways.

    • Very sweet of you to say so, Mimi. But I sometimes feel that there are conventions in blogging, And that a long blog becomes burdensome to some people. Unlike a book or or magazine, I doubt that many people take a break from reading in the middle of a web page in order to come back to it later. Always very good to hear from you.

  17. It’s funny, you talk about the balance of images and words, and one thing I have always admired about your work is that you seem to strike that balance perfectly, and there never appears to be much effort to it. There’s a natural flow to the images and words, a comfortable rhythm.
    Here you paint a picture of a very civilized place, which is pretty amazing when you think about the larger context.
    Sorry I haven’t been around – work is taking up much more of my time these days. Be well!

    • I can well understand what you say, bluebrightly, about being busy with work. I am often in that situation myself. As for your remark about the larger context, surrounding our city, and our country in general… this is one of the most difficult aspects that we have to face regarding international relations. For those of us who live here, many things are taken for granted, but completely unknown or misunderstood in other places in this world. I like to believe that truth will win the day… but there are times when I have my doubts. Thanks for your comment.

  18. We have a classic example of this gentrification in Auckland here in NZ. The suburb of Ponsonby is now an area to ‘live in’, but decades ago it was one of the roughest areas to live in – in my lifetime. I lived in Auckland briefly in the mid-1960’s.. There was a pub there I went to a few times – The Gluepot or the Ponsonby Arms to be exact. That was back in the days of six-o’clock closing.

    • Ah, you have me there, Peter. I have seen some very beautiful photography of nature in New Zealand, but know next to nothing about the life or the people there. When you mention ‘six-o’clock closing’, it is hard for me even to imagine what that was all about. When I was young, here in Jerusalem, most of the bars closed shortly after midnight. And if you wanted a little action later than that, you had to go to one steak restaurant that was open in the wee hours… where taxi drivers used to congregate… there was always something happening there. Thanks for the comment.

  19. I can imagine doing a post like this but we don’t have much to compare at all. To live in such a long established city must be marvelous. I read an article recently about the oldest cities in the world, in which you feature. And there were others, equally old or older found in the middle east.

    • Yes Katherine, there seems to be something of a competition among certain cities of the world as to which of them is the oldest continuously inhabited city. Of course, there were cities, still older, that did not survive. This is something like the determination of who is the oldest person alive. I sometimes feel like I am the oldest person alive… but then I might have a better day, and think I’m quite young. I like to think that what makes Jerusalem so unique, is not just it’s age, but the wisdom and faith that have emanated from the city through all those years. Thank you for your comment.

  20. You know, Shimon, when I began blogging, I was given two bits of advice: the same advice, from many people. I was told I never would have readers unless I posted every day, and never posted more than 300 words, because “people don’t have the attention span for more.”

    Well, you know how seriously I took that advice. My thought was that it was most important for me to say what was on my mind, as well as I could, and let things fall out as they would. I think they’ve fallen out rather well — at least, they have to my satisfaction.

    As for reading blogs, I have only one requirement: that they keep my interest. In that, you excel. Others have pointed to your perfect balance of words and images, and I agree about that. Beyond that, you are connected to your place in the world, and that love, born of faith as well as of experience, is compelling.

    As for this post — the houses, and gardens — what strikes me is the human scale of it all. The warmth of the stone; the care taken in designing the public spaces, the rich green of the plantings — it’s all beautiful. I think it would be a wonderful place to live. I wish you years of peace and prosperity there.

    • I agree with you, Linda, that when communicating, it’s most important to say what is on our minds. But I believe that there is a necessity to consider the framework in which we are communicating. We usually alternate our style if we’re having a conversation with a close personal friend, or if we’re speaking in a public forum. A noted Chassidic teacher once said that he found it difficult to speak of torah to a group larger than ten people, because he tried to actually meet each of them on their own level. When writing for mass distribution, we have to consider the limitations of the reader. If I’m writing a book, or an article in a magazine, I may expect my reader to take a break at any time, and mark that spot so he or she might continue later. But there is something transient about the attention given to a web page. I am sensitive to the lack of patience on the part of many of my readers. I remember that Norman Mailer, many years ago, in the Village Voice, wrote a column which was designed to slow the pace of his readers. But having already taken the trouble to write in a language not my own, in order to reach across borders, I try my best to keep my message easy for the passer by who is willing to indulge me for a few minutes. Thank you very much for your kind comment. It’s a true pleasure to exchange thoughts with you.

  21. This looks such an attractive area and nothing like I would have imagined to find in Jerusalem. The story and the pictures fit so well together too, as they always do in your Posts, Shimon

    • It amazes me, Andy, that though Jerusalem gets quite a bit of news time, the picture that people in other countries get is often far from the realities here. But now that the internet crosses borders easily, and there is more communication between people and peoples, I have hope that we will soon be seen for what we are. Thanks so much for your comment.

      • It was the architecture that fascinated me – the buildings would not look out of place in towns near me.

        • That’s interesting. I would be surprised to learn that people are still building with stone in Europe. Maybe older houses?

          • Actually depending on the existing characteristics in a village or town a lot of new builds may be all in stone. The planning laws in the UK take a lot of notice of ensuring that new development fits in with the existing.

  22. I do like that fountain, catering for all heights of people and dogs too…I’m sure the street cats and birds use it too!
    I always enjoy finding out more about your beloved city, what history! Yes, in the UK many areas that once belonged to the poor have been renovated and the poor kicked out….
    I enjoy your posts however they come, so would look at as many pictures as were posted, and enjoy them all….what’s not to enjoy, you are a master photographer after all! And very unique and individual with it, you don’t disappoint!xxx

    • Yes, I do love that drinking fountain too. Fortunately, cats don’t have much to worry about in our city, Dina. They are honored citizens, and many folks go out of their way to make sure that they’re comfortable. It is a problem, renewing and upkeeping the city, and I do sympathize with the difficulty of some of the residents of the old neighborhood. But they were given alternative housing. I remember that some of them were given apartments in my old neighborhood. Thanks so much for your comment. xxx

  23. Another most enjoyable and for me educational post. Gentrification is something we are very familiar with here in the UK. Areas which were once slums are now places for the very rich and the other way around. I love the area where there are many artists…and the fountains are lovely. I prefer smaller gardens…more intimate.
    I have always enjoyed the balance of photographs and text in your blogs. It works very well of me and I am sure all your other readers..
    From a very hot London, Janet.xx

    • We heard about the heat in London over here, and there was a lot of sympathy. We know how difficult it is when the weather is unusual, regardless of how hot or how cold. People are prepared for a certain type of weather, and the moment it gets unusual, we don’t really know how to deal with it. Here, everyone has air conditioning, even though we only use it a very few days in the year in Jerusalem. Wishing you a very pleasant summer, Janet, with cool breezes even on the hot days. xxx

  24. An interesting post, Shimon. I do like that egalitarian drinking fountain.

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