Jerusalem: More Than Just a City

A symbol of hope for humanity.

Jerusalem deserves more respect than the contemptuous words of a self-hating Jew named Matt Gross, the travel reporter for the New York Times.  His narrow focus ignored the magnificence of the City on the Hill, situated 800 meters above sea level and dominated by biblical hills and towering modern skyscrapers. Likewise, he missed the significance of the human laboratory that is Jerusalem.  The essence of Jerusalem, unbeknownst to Gross, is more than that of a city; it is a symbol of hope for humanity.

In the ancient Old City, surrounded by the Herodian and Ottoman walls, Orthodox Jews bustle about in black long coats co-mingling with priests in black robes and brown-clad monks, as well as with Arab Muslims wearing kaffiyahs on their heads.  Added to the mix, this reporter spotted a nearby mix of mini-skirted Scandinavian girls, Russian, Brazilian, Japanese, Indian, African, British, German, and American tourists, as well as secular and skull-capped Israelis seeking out souvenirs in the narrow alleys of the Arab souk (Arab market).

Just a few yards outside the Jaffa Gate is the newly built Mamila open mall with its chic stores offering clothing, fine jewelry and gift items, as well as art galleries and   restaurants.  At the Aroma, (Israeli chain of café-restaurants with branches in New York) one can witness a heartwarming sight of head covered Arab-Muslim women sitting next to a table with Orthodox Jewish women whose hair is also covered.  At another table, western attired Arabs are arguing loudly in good spirit, while at the next table skull-capped Israeli teenagers are busy talking.  In another corner of the Café, three young Arab-Muslim girls are giggling and exchanging experiences in Arabic.  Secular Israeli Jews can also be seen in this kaleidoscope that makes up Israeli society.  It is a picture of peace, in contrast to the often portrayed scenes of conflict and violence western reporters are so fond of presenting their readers in New York, London, Paris, Berlin, and Toronto.

Jerusalem is not merely a holy city for Christian pilgrims who come to follow the path of Jesus’  last torturous walk along the Via Delarosa’s Stations of the Cross, the Church of the Holy Sepulchere (Jesus’ burial place) or the Garden Tomb. Nor is Jerusalem’s Kotel, or Western wall (a remnant of the Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE) the only meaningful Jerusalem experience for Jews.  In addition to archaeology and biblical history, Jerusalem is a vibrant mix of culture, entertainment, and natural beauty, aspects of which Mr. Gross did not bother to examine.

The Hebrew University at Givat Ram in central Jerusalem is an outstanding academic institution that offers enriching lectures on a wide range of issues, and its Mount Scopes facility offers a beautiful view of the city.  The city is replete with museums, a biblical zoo, and historical sites, as well as a magnificent Supreme Court building and the Knesset hill.

Malha Mall, built just outside of the city, has become a hub for locals and city folk – a place where Arab and Jewish Jerusalemites come together.  And, in central Jerusalem on the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall one sees tourists, out-of-town Israelis and locals in the restaurants, falafel stands, ice cream parlors, gift stores and the ever present nut shops with mouthwatering pistachios, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, almonds, and more.  The cozy Nahalat Shiv'a, another pedestrian promenade is located nearby and offers tourists the best of Israeli artists in chic galleries, and a variety of foods in its many restaurants.

Another experience unique to Jerusalem is the opportunity to have coffee or a meal on the balcony of the renowned King David Hotel.  While the superb food is certainly a draw, the panoramic view of the Old City with its awe-inspiring ramparts as well as the Golden dome of the Omar mosque and the al-Aksa mosque and the Tower of David (the evening light shows dominant the sky), are what leave an everlasting impression.

Gross’ description of Israel reflects the sentiments of many assimilated Jews who have discarded all vestiges of their Jewish identity, when he writes, “But to me, a deeply secular Jew, Israel has always felt less like a country than a politically iffy burden. For decades I’d tried to put as much distance between myself and Judaism as possible, and the idea that I was supposed to feel some connection to my ostensible homeland seemed ridiculous. Give me Montenegro, Chiapas, Iran even. But Israel was like Christmas: something I’d never do.”

Had Gross stepped beyond his mental confines he would have found a fascinating Israel and an extraordinary Jerusalem.  Had he taken the southwestern approach to the city through Ein Karem not only would he would have encountered the refreshing and dry air in the pine-tree forested hills of Jerusalem, its secret streams, and the miracle of science and compassion that awaits any visitor to Hadassah hospital. Entering the city through its diverse neighborhoods he could have gone to Israel Museum, where the Dead Sea scrolls are protected in a feat of engineering known as The Shrine of the Book, continued on to see The Bible Museum, Yad Vashem, Mt. Herzl, Jerusalem University on Mt. Scopus and, in his travels, the continual growth of an ancient-new city.

Israel and Jerusalem, for those who truly seek to know, is a microcosm of all that is beautiful and diverse.  Surrounded by hostile neighbors whose countries are mired in violence and poverty, Israel is an island of progress, modernity, and civility.  Here the Bible comes alive and with new discoveries every day, is an archaeological wonderland.  It is a small, (less than 8000 Sq. miles) country with every conceivable landscape: Snow laden slopes of Mt. Hermon in the northern Golan where skiers abound, to a moon-shaped desert in the southern Negev.  The lush Galilee with its mountains and sea resembles the Pacific Northwest. The Sharon region with its orange groves resembles California and Florida, while Tel Aviv with the Mediterranean shoreline looks a bit like Miami and, Haifa is Israel’s San Francisco.  Eilat, at its southern tip is Israel’s Las Vegas and Hawaii, offering physical beauty and year round sun without humidity.

To most self-respecting Jews, Israel is a miracle they are proud of and they will tell you that Israel is no Iraq or Afghanistan.  Israel is a self-sustaining nation where the combination of efforts made by Jews, Muslims, Christians and others are on display throughout the country.  If one travels away from their media sources and ventures into the markets, theatres, streets and universities, they will see how different cultures and traditions are respectfully accommodating to one and other in a way that belies the negative reports.

For most of humanity, Christian and Jews in particular, Jerusalem is the center of the world, the shining city of many hills with unparalleled beauty and history. Matt Gross was guided by his prejudices and as such was unable to grasp the gifts. The city of Jerusalem does deserve better…

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