I’ve lived in Jerusalem my entire adult life. We live in the German Colony, which is just a few minutes’ walk from most of the hotels and a 20-minute walk from Jaffa Gate. For a city of 860,000, Jerusalem can feel like a little village. For our kids, its a couple of minutes to school or work or hummus joint. There are days when we don’t use the car at all. If my clients are up to it, and the weather and the schedule cooperate, I almost always prefer to walk. There’s no better way to get to know a city. (Of course, biking is a great way to discover the flatter-than-Jerusalem Tel Aviv. Not to name-drop, but not long ago I spent a great day biking around TA with Rahm Emanuel and daughter.)
Jerusalem is a fascinating place to live, with a lot of different worlds adjoining one another in a space/time continuum that is unique to the city. I marvel over the fact that you can so easily hop from one dimension to another. It is also a study in coexistence. I’ve learned that there are big nasty words that frighten some people, words like Peace or Belief in a Single God, but if you can avoid use of these threatening concepts, then we are doing a pretty good job of getting along and living and let live. It isn’t perfect, for sure. But to have such a diverse group of people living at peace (peace in lower case, of course) in one potentially explosive powder-keg is remarkable. It doesn’t make the headlines; the other, more incendiary stories and sound-bites do, so that’s why I try not to read them.
Physically, Jerusalem is gorgeous, with views of mountains and distant horizons at every turn. The walls and buildings are faced with Jerusalem stone. There are lots of steps and stones and uphills (somehow, never a downhill) so it can take some conditioning, or some taxis, to get through a hot summer day. We’re right on the border with the Judean Desert, and at the top of the Judean Hills. Summer evenings can be cool (sweatshirt or light jacket) even if it was 35 degrees (95 Fahrenheit) at midday. But it isn’t very humid, which is often the case in Tel Aviv and the coast.
Everyone wants to see the Old City. There’s also what I call The Older City, more popularly known as the City of David. That’s where the city of Jerusalem began, along the Gihon Spring, the only source of water in the area. Before long, David conquers and establishes his kingdom’s capital there.
And the rest, pardon the expression, is history. Lots of it. You walk the streets and alleys here and the Bible is still oozing through the seams. I close my eyes and all of my senses spark to life, homing in on what it felt to be here at Ground Zero of the Jewish People during the First Temple period (1000-586 BCE), the Return to Zion (in the Persian period) and the Second Temple period (515 BCE – 70 CE). Kings vs. Prophets, High Priests performing the service in God’s Holy Temple, followers of the Israelite faith vying with idol worshipers, polemics over which regional superpower to ally with, pilgrimages to Jerusalem from all points of the Jewish demographic map.
But one need stretch one’s literary imagination only so far. As we walk through the 21st century edition of all this, we encounter the real and tactile trappings of the Bible’s narrative: sloshing through a 2700-year-old man-made water tunnel carved in order to save King Hezekiah’s Jerusalem from the besieging forces of the Assyrian army; walking up the (now underground) steps that led Temple pilgrims from bathing at the Shiloah Pool to ascending the Temple Mount; looking out on the mosaic floor of a room where our ancestors retold the story of Exodus 2000 Passovers ago. There is a clear and present danger of being swept into the space-time vortex. I may at that point rein you back into the 21st century, and talk about some of the real-time political and religious controversies that propel the City of David into the headlines.
Starting to see why I would want to live in Jerusalem?