Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Visit to the other side of Town

Every event begins with a decision.
My experience this evening happens because I decided to go to Evening Prayer.

After service, Fr. Izeed asked me and another fellow Garold (a Russian scientist who has lived all over the world from what I can make out but most recently from the US) for a glass of wine. So we went to the Alumni Club and had a drink. We had a nice chatty conversation and then Izeed had to leave for another appointment but Garold and I continued to sit and talk.  It was really interesting. He had just finished reading ‘Damascus Gate’ (which I have just read). And he, like the main character, is from Jewish heritage but went to a Catholic school. His parents are Russian doctors and quite secular. So he is here working at the research institute and searching for his place in it all. He loves our liturgy and the singing which is why he was at Evening Prayer.  He recognizes a yearning in his soul but is not too sure what it is or what it is for.

 Garold tells me that he is going to West Jerusalem for a kind of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ demonstration. I said I would like to go and he seemed surprised that I would be interested but pleased to have the company so off we went. The walk wasn’t too far but it was into a part of the city I have never been before. I must say it was lovely. The streets are closed to traffic and everyone is out after the end of Sabbath so there is a festive air. I see a ‘Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’ cafĂ© and that is weird – on my side of town there is no such thing.

We get to a little park, in the heart of West Jerusalem and there are a lot of people. There are many signs I can’t understand except I do see a few in English that say ‘ End the Occupation’ and another that says ‘There will no Peace until there is Justice’.  There are flags waving (some Israeli flags and others with slogans in Hebrew).

We begin a conversation with a young woman, Kaila, who is a teacher in a school for troubled kids and she is so nice and helpful. She is very pretty - blonde and blue-eyed, her mother is British and her father, South African but she was born in Israel. She talks to us about how Israel is a good country. Some of the people are rude but most are kind. ‘It is complicated here, but that is Israel.’  She says with a shrug.

 She says this demonstration is about economics not politics and that the government has been raising the prices on food and electricity. She explains that there is a law that the minimum wage is to be raised every three years but they keeping raising the prices so no one can catch up. It is very expensive to live here. She says ‘the government asked us to cut back on water usage and energy usage and we did but now they are losing money so they are raising the prices  and the people cannot afford it anymore. Why don’t they have the energy windmills, like in the deserts of California? There is unoccupied land out in the desert and they could put them out there.’

We have now left the little park on Ben Yuda Street and have begun our walk toward the Knesset.  As we head down the hill I can see a lot of people a head of us - a couple of blocks full. The police are there in cars with loud speakers and Kaila tells us they are saying ‘Please! Keep to the right!’   There are really no problems and it remains very peaceful. Later I see a sign, written in Hebrew, that I am told is a verse from the Bible, something to do with fairness and justice. I am not sure if that is in light of the economy or the politics.

 We eventually decide we have walked quite a distance and it is time to leave, so we walk back through the streets of West Jerusalem. It is very European – small winding avenues (very similar to East Jerusalem actually). The side streets are mostly deserted with shops closed for the night save for a few coffee /internet cafes crowded with young people.  We find ourselves back on the main street and stop to have dinner at a Moroccan restaurant. I had the zucchini pie (like quiche).  Garold has the Jewish Grill which is grilled onions and chicken pieces – like liver and kidneys, etc. He says his mother used to make this when he was young. I understand it was quite tasty, although I declined the kind offer to try it.

 Our conversation has become really interesting. We have covered science, space, ecology, religion and spirituality. We have only just touched on the issues here.  He wants to visit Hebron and Ramallah, I tell him to be careful. Perhaps he should not go alone or at least learn a few Arabic words. I am feeling that perhaps, maybe, I should learn a few Hebrew words too. 

 We walk home through The Mamleh Mall, all lit up and hopping with people in the restaurants. I see such a variety of people - Jewish, Muslim, Hassidic, Christian (and to be honest, everyone comes from the same Semitic heritage and they all look alike). Everyone must go through security to get into the mall. And once inside, it is just like being in Los Angeles with the Gap and other high end stores. When we have finished exploring we decide to cut through the old city to go home. We sort of get lost but eventually find our way out at Damascus gate. The whole evening has been surreal. Going from one side of the world to the other. It is so different over there. And it is not so very far away – only walking distance.

I am glad I went. I am trying to get some sort of perspective but my heart is heavy with all this information.  Each side of this city lives in its own world. I have a lot to think about.

But for now, my only comment is that I find it interesting to go to the malls where everyone gets along - albeit grudgingly. But I think if people can get along at all, grudgingly or not – it is, at least, a start.

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