“Next year in Jerusalem” said our host.
I was at my friends house attending a Passover dinner in Jerusalem. Passover is a Jewish holiday that celebrates when Jewish people passed from Egypt to Palestine through the red sea, therefore escaping slavery and hardship. It is usually celebrated by an elaborate dinner at which everybody reads the Ha’agadah, the story of the Passover. There is good food, wine, songs in addition to a great story. The very last statement said, symbolizes the yearning of all the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem. Even though we were living in Jerusalem, people still say it in order to reaffirm their commitment to living in Jerusalem.
“Next year in Jerusalem” repeated everybody after the host as they were closing their Ha’agadah book. I closed my story book, bite my lip and said in my heart “Next year in Vancouver”.
No words can describe my yearning to be in Vancouver, offset only by my desire to get out of Jerusalem at any price.
I lived in many cities in the world and each had its pluses and minus. Jerusalem is city I hated the most. In fact, I should say that I hated both Jerusalems. Jerusalem is divided into two parts, western Jerusalem (mostly Israeli) and eastern Jerusalem (mostly Palestinian and includes the old city). And I hated both equally. In fact, I should say that I hated all the Jerusalems, because the city was further devided into religious and non religious neighborhoods. Touristy and regular places. It is really many cities and each has its own distinct personality. And I hated all the psychotic, split personalities of that city. I hated the sign in Mea’a Sha’areem street that tells women not walk down the road when they are menstruating because it would be disrespectful to the ultra orthodox Jewish traditions. I hated the super aggressive Palestinian merchants in the old city that would harass tourists, essentially intimidating them to enter the store and buy something. I hated the stupid tricks the priests would play on tourists in the holy sepulcher church by making the statue of the virgin Marry cry so that the tourist would be convinced that they were witnessing a miracle and donate more money. I hated the way Christian tourists would descend on mountain of olives in bus loads and crawl around kissing the ground and crying hysterically instead of enjoying the amazing view. And what’s up with calling little hills mountains anyway? I hated the cat calls and sexual harassment that any woman would be subjected to, regardless of which Jerusalem you were in and regardless of how modestly you were dressed (couldn’t the Israelis learned something positive from the Palestinians instead?). I hated it when somebody would call me “hamoda” (sweetie in Hebrew) and I hated it even more when somebody would call me “bobah or bobaley” (doll in Hebrew) – بوبه في عينك يا تيس – . I hated driving behind a tank for an hour, these things are slow, they go about 20km/h, plus they are one and a half times the width of a car so they take two lanes which means you can’t pass them. There should be a law forbidding tanks on the road during rush hour. I hated taking the bus because people would push me around and step on my feet.
I could go on for another three pages but I think I beat this horse to death.
Ok, so not everything in Jerusalem is negative, there a few things I liked. I liked walking at 5 am to the mountain of olives and watch the sunrise when it was all quiet with not another soul around. On one side you could see the beginning of the Negev dessert and on the other side a view of the whole old city with the Dome of the Rock smack in the middle. The contrast was striking. I liked walking around in Emek Rafa’eem in west Jerusalem with its cool coffee shops and funky jewelry shops. Mahanah Yehuda (looks like an old shouk only is not that old) in downtown Jerusalem is pretty cool as well, regardless of how many times it has been bombed.
Later I would realize that it wasn’t the city that I disliked so much as the grumpy, cynical and aggressive person I was becoming in it. But that is a story for another post.
I do have to credit Jerusalem though, for teaching me a few important lessons and one of them being the gift of art appreciation.
I used to think that all art was a useless waste of time. You can’t eat art. So why produce it or waste time with such impractical matters. Until one day in Jerusalem my coworker Boris came to work hardly able to contain his excitement. He told me that the night before he visited the Museum of Israel and there he saw a very famous painting by a very very famous painter, this painting was going to be displayed at the Israel museum for several weeks before it returns to its original gallery somewhere in Europe. Part of me was saying “Big deal, it is just a painting” but the excitement in Boris’s eyes convinced me to go to the Israel Museum that very evening. I bought my ticket. And sat infront of the very very famous painting determined to figure of what the big deal was.
The hand out stated that the painting by Kustav Klimt illustrates the
legend of Salome, who danced the dance of the seven veils for King Herod and then demanded the head of John the Baptist on a platter. You can observe her hand clutching the severed head of the poor fellow on the right bottom corner of the painting.
So, I stared and stared at the painting. I stared at that weird expression of satisfaction in her face. Has she no remorse? doesn’t she feel ashamed? And then the female figure in the painting spoke to me, she said “ihath! Take hold of yourself, take hold of your life”. That was no cheap trick, no hidden pipes delivering fake tears from behind a dead statue, that was no virgin either, that was the real stuff. I got up and went home with a heavy heart. I knew exactly what I needed to do. I thought it would never come to this.
Sometimes a woman has to do what a woman has to do.
I lived in many cities in the world and Vancouver is the only city I returned to after leaving.
I love Granville Island with all the musicians playing at different corners. I love Stanley, park, walking around the sea wall, the kids like riding the choo choo train. I love walking under the rain. I love going for a walk on Commercial Drive with the hippy stores and that amazing Italian coffee shop that has all those roman marble statues. I love sushi lunches and dining in fancy seafood restaurants. I love the International Film festival which I attend religiously every year and I love the international folk festival at Jericho beach. I love taking long walks on the beach right around sunset or the sunrise. I love going on all day hikes in the mountains. I love kayaking in the ocean. I love the fact that I see the mountains everyday on my way to work. I love the way nobody notices me when I walk around the city, the way nobody looks or stares. I love that feeling of being anonymous in a busy city , the feeling of being a nobody. I love the fact that I can still get lost here even though I lived here for many years. I love no security guards.
Not everything is perfect in Vancouver, there are a few things that irk me. Like that pathetic art gallery we have that rarely displays worth while art. But, no place can be perfect.
One year from seeing that very very famous painting I was back in Vancouver a good friend invites us to spend a Passover dinner with his family. We have lots of fun, good food, wine, songs. At the end of the ceremony, my friend says “Next year in Jerusalem” as he closes his Ha’agadah. I close my story book, bite my lip and in my heart I say “No way Jose, been there, done that, never again”.
Thus ended my quest for the holy grail. It ended by me realizing that I didn’t want to find it.