Thursday, 5 July 2018

Jerusalem the Gold

We had breakfast in a little cafe in Terence Aviv this morning. We had chocolate croissants and the sweetest, tangiest, most freshly squeezed orange that I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. 

We hopped on the bus to Jerusalem at about 10am. It’s always a bit of a motley crew who end up on the bus from Terence Aviv to Jerusalem: a mixture of old blokes in homburgs, funny middle-aged Americans in awful baseball caps and young Israelis in army uniforms. There were a lot of ultra orthodox women travelling as well. You can spot them a mile off from their silhouettes. They wear flat-heeled shoes and sack-like dresses which they prettify with little Laura Ashley-style lacy collars, and fascinators or bows pinned into their sheitals. The end result looks somewhat childish.

We reached Jerusalem and checked into the YMCA where we’re staying. When you think about YMCAs, you think about puritanical dormitories and singing red Indians, but, in Jerusalem, it’s a glorious Art Deco hotel with a huge tower which guests are allowed to climb for stunning sunset views across the city.
We walked into the old city in the searing afternoon heat. The humidity of Tel Aviv has now been replaced by a dry, dry heat; the sort of heat which can be quite shocking because it makes you wonder if you’re being baked alive.

The old city was its usual chaotic self with scores of Arabs in the Christian quarter hustling their wares. If I had a sense of smell, I’d be able to talk about the heady blend of spices, rotting meats and incense, but because I don’t, I’ll have to talk about the riot of visuals I encountered. Silk scarves and tallitot hang from the ceilings and crucifixes are tossed shambolically onto wooden tables with Magen Davids and menorahs. Catch the eye of a shop keeper and you’re instantly offered some sort of deal.

The Jewish quarter is filled with beggars who will remind you, quite aggressively, of your duty to give to charity. A bald-headed woman wearing a head scarf was busking on an accordion. She was singing along in a voice which sounded like she’d swallowed sandpaper. The noise of her singing was suddenly upstaged by the microtonal wails of the Muslim call to prayer echoing from the Arab quarter.

The entire old city is a cacophony of sights, sounds and smells. We went shopping for a tallit. We obviously have to wear them whilst singing at shul and I’ve got quite bored of our synagogue-issued prayer shawls, which are a complete lottery. There’s one which sometimes gets put out for us to wear which the choir call the “dead man’s shroud” on account of it looking a little like a middle-aged woman’s stole from a night out in the 1960s dipped in death and then resurrected. The tallitot in the old city are all hand-woven and incredibly expensive, however. I absolutely fell in love with one which costed about £300! So we hastily took ourselves away from the tourist areas and headed to where the frums live and work.

We went to a district called Mea Shearim, which is full of winding little roads, crammed with wonderful bakeries, kosher grocery stores, clothing shops and bric-a-brac places. It is another world, filled with wonderful faces, and ultra orthodox Jewish people from all kinds of different sects, all of whom wear slightly different uniforms. Some wear black peddle pushers and waistcoats, others wear furry hats which are a cross between a homburg and a boater, some dress in stripy, grey over coats. The young lads wear their suit jackets over their shoulders like the Pink Ladies in Grease!

The walls of the area are lined with austere-looking black and white posters: a mix of death notices, public shamings and reminders of ones duty to live a modest and God-fearing life.

The guys that sold us our tallitot were rakish, witty and very naughty despite being dressed in Charedi garb. The first Tallit I spotted was fringed with a six-coloured rainbow. The concept of the pride flag was obviously lost on them and they described it merely as “multi-coloured.” It felt too much of a statement - even for me - so I opted instead for one fringed in blues and purples.

This evening we went to Emek Refaim, a somewhat trendy part of town where slightly more bohemian Jerusalemites come to eat and promenade. We sat outside a pizza restaurant, people watching. The most curious sight was almost certainly the lad wearing full football kit with a tallit underneath his football shirt and a kippah on his head. The pizza was delicious but I have never been served such a large one! It’s rare for me to walk away from any food, but that one had me beat!

We’ve walked about ten miles today. My feet feel like stumps.

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