With almost three months in one spot, you have both an opportunity and a need to establish certain routines. Where will I lie my head at night? Where do I get food? What will be my commute routes and modes of travel to language school (ulpan) Monday through Thursday mornings, and my afternoons of volunteering (Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights – you can look it up online to see the organization’s purpose and activities). And what of cultural activities? And social visits with friends and family.
Dear readers, I am writing to you on a Thursday evening – which is like Friday evening in the States for one of those working stiffs I think I can still recall being. Well, it isn’t exactly like Friday night, because in Jerusalem, the whole place shuts down on Friday after 2 pm and doesn’t awake till Saturday evening. There are exceptions – there are always plenty of exceptions – but shabbat is taken pretty seriously around here, so such things as public transit simply aren’t available. If you need something from the world, you best get it by Thursday evening…Friday morning at the latest.
I am now comfortably sitting in my North Talpiyot room, part of a three-bedroom unit I share with the owner of the condo, Gila. I was so fortunate to connect with her, and this rental arrangement is excellent for me – I hope for her as well. It is now one week in Israel and by George if I haven’t figured most of that routinizing stuff out!
Please let me tell you about my neighborhood. Across the street a major condominium complex is expanding. There are five cranes operating and perhaps as many multi-story buildings going up. Around the corner to the south is the entrance to the Haas Promenade, with beautiful views of the Old City of Jerusalem and surrounding west and east Jerusalem urban centers.
Terry, the Jerusalem contact point for Skilled Volunteers for Israel, the organization which performed matchmaker (Shadkhinit – שַׁדְכָנִית) duties for me and Bimkom, gave me a driving tour of my neighborhood on my first afternoon in town. She showed me the likely grocery shopping places, the urgent care medical facility which is 3 blocks away, an up close look at the (in)famous “separation wall” which divides East Jerusalem from the West Bank not far from my apartment, and the proximity to the Haas Promenade. We then had dinner together at a traditional Middle East dining place at the First Station (a Food, Arts and Cultural site that reminds be a bit of a small scale Granville Island in Vancouver). After dinner I walk back “home” along the beautiful “train track park.” They kept the rails, and filled the interior with preserved wooden planks.
Also, minutes by foot from the apartment is a walk to Emek Refaim Street, the heart of the German Colony, an upscale neighborhood. The Reform Synagogue, Kol Haneshema, which I went to for services 25 years ago, is also in the neighborhood, so I walked to Friday evening erev shabbat services there. While all in Hebrew, and filled with a number of different tunes, nevertheless, I felt right at home with the liturgy and the songs I did know so well. Just a touch on the universality and continuity of the Jewish people… and a pleasant walk back along the train track park to my flat.
The next day – shabbat – I had, as they say, “time to kill.” So I walked to my ulpan site to make sure I knew exactly where it was located, and then walked to the Old City because… well, because I could. Yes, my location is so central that it feels like the Old City is my “hood.” I took a tour of the Old City, checked out another falafel joint, and explored alternative ways of commuting to school.
Forthcoming Blog Entries: The Ulpan Experience, Volunteering, and Connections with Friends and Family