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September 02

Sylvia Charles
...salespeople were definitely more solicitous than they have been in the past

I have just returned from a trip to Jerusalem for a cousin’s wedding. I went with hesitation and trepidation, my on and off again trip coming just a couple of weeks after the bombing at Mt. Scopus Hebrew University. I must say I would still recommend going to Israel for anyone who has a mission or feels a need to go.I,a middle-aged woman went alone, but I did stay with my cousins in Jerusalem while I was there.
I walked and shopped on Ben Yehuda St. which was not filled with its usual boisterous café sippers. There were construction crews aplenty. Lots of stores were boarded up. But salespeople were definitely more solicitous than they have been in the past in the open stores. Actually, there was even one strolling street musician who did give the street some "normalcy". And finding a parking spot in the area was still a problem!

At Yad Vashem there was no parking problem, since its visitors that day included a group of Russian immigrants, a squadron of young army recruits and my cousin and myself. Also at Soreq cave ( a stalactite and stalagmite wonder) 20 kilometres southwest of Jerusalem , we were amongst a handful of tourists who were addressed in English by the bilingual guide. When we visited the Mormon university campus at Mt. Scopus, my cousin and I were its only guests. Consequently, we were treated to a solo concert overlooking the most picturesque view of the Old City that I have yet encountered.

Fortunately for the economy, diners still frequent restaurants in off the beaten track areas. We had a superb pre-nuptial dinner at the Holyland Park Café overlooking Jerusalem whose security guard and location on the fenced back hills of Bayit Vegan neighborhood gave it a sense of protection. The wedding , the raison d’etre of my trip, took place at Moshav Shoresh on the outskirts of Jerusalem in a modern hotel. Attended by 300 people, it was considered small by Israeli standards. The chuppah which was set outdoors had lavish staging ,lighting and numerous videographers and photographers. It had the feel of a Hollywood extravaganza replete with rifle-toting security guards.

Israel is full of contrasts and ironies. Walking through the park adjacent to the Knesset on Shabbat , we saw several birthday parties in session. Children were just having fun and playing soccer, well supervised by adults. A few streets away, a Palestinian bride and groom were quietly being filmed with the backdrop of the Tower of David, no one harrassing them on their special day. My aunt is in a long –term care facility in Hod Adumin (east of the Old City) and she is being lovingly cared for by Arab personnel. My uncle (recently deceased) lies in a cemetery adjacent to the five family members killed by a suicide bomber. The graves groan with the weight of visitors’ stones and markers of their short lives. One cousin has a brand-new modern condo in Yemin Moshe (1st neighborhood built outside the city’s walls after the war). You can hear strains of Arab music and the howling of animals at night through the windows of her home. (it’s not far from the zoo)

At Lod airport, (where I spent many hours waiting for a connecting flight) I remarked that Israelis and foreign passport holders are still very aggressive in airport line-ups. Everyone ignores no smoking signs. Servers are brusque at self-service counters, prices high and tips are expected.
But, on the other hand, a vocal New Yorker, now an Israeli citizen, and I struck up a meaningful conversation which began with a tirade to the smokers beside me and ended up with an offer of a shared meal.

When a coin -operated phone refused to function, I accosted a Russian speaking cleaner and he patiently dialed the numbers for my call because I muttered a few Russian words. While in the departure lounge, a surveyor grilled me on my demographic status, my spending habits and if my safety while in Israel was an issue. In spite of its paradoxes, I answered unconditionally "yes" to returning to Israel and so did the students on a Birthright trip with whom I shared my return plane.

© Sylvia Charles October 2002

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