Newsletter 36: A Shabbat morning walk
Dear friends and family, shalom,
As you know I try to stick to "no news" but, it has been difficult because of the war. Now I shall try to go back to no news normalcy.
In an effort to escape the subject of war allow me to tell you about a tour I did for the last two Saturdays for a group of people staying at the Novotel
This hotel is located in the "no man's land" area of pre 1967 days. It's on the pre 1967 dividing line which was the border between Jordan and Israel.
Today a new main road known as road 1, runs South – North, next to the hotel, following the old border line.
I started my tour at the old border crossing, known as the Mandelbaum gate. Today there's only a concrete pillar in its memory standing on a traffic island in the middle of the road.
The old Israeli border lookout point, a building known as the Turjeman post, is on the western side of the road. I pointed this out to my tourists and showed them that the windows are still all blocked up with only slits that let in a bit of light.
This position, very aptly, has become a museum devoted to things that separate people, known as the "On the Fringe Museum."
The idea and financing of the museum, comes from a German publishing co. in the interests of promoting better understanding between groups of people with different religious or national ideas.
The United Nations lookout post still stands on the eastern, once Jordanian, side of the road.
Ridiculously, after 39 years of the unification of Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, they still have a presence there with the UN flag waving proudly in the breeze. It's as if they're waiting for the city to be divided again and they'll once again have their sky blue armored vehicles and spiffy officials and soldiers keeping the peace between the Arabs and the Jews.
Most of Jerusalem's 150000 (approx) Arab inhabitants used to live under Jordanian sovereignty. Today they live under Israeli sovereignty. Unfortunately many of them still dream of the return of their Arab brothers, even though, under Israel, they enjoy economic prosperity, cultural and religious freedom, and educational opportunities and so on.
I decided to give my tourists a taste of both the Jordanian and the Israeli side of the road.
We walked to the American Colony Hotel. This is really the heart of the Arab part of Jerusalem. In the 19th century the Arab mayor of Jerusalem lived here as did the grand mufti (head of the Moslem
religious council) and many other wealthy sheiks with their many wives, in lavish style. Elegant receptions were held here for important guests like the Kaizer of Germany. Here Arabs dressed like Europeans and spoke European languages like English, German and French.
While we were standing in the midst of all this Arab, European flavored elegance a group of Hassidim and their families came walking by. The sharp contrast between them and the typical Arab scenery around us brought surprised, questioning looks to the faces of my tourists.
Despite the outward differences in style of dress and way of life, these two groups of people in fact have a common bond to this area in the form of two tombs of two holy people; the Moslem tomb of the Sheikh Jarrahand nearby the tomb of Simon the Just.
The tomb of the sheikh dates from the 14th century and the tomb of Simon dates from a much earlier time, possibly even from the 2nd Temple period. During all these hundreds of years pious Jews and Moslems have been walking side by side to pray at their respective tombs.
This situation came to an end, naturally, with the formation of the border between Israel and Jordan in 1948. In the 19 years of Jordanian rule pious Hassidic Israelis couldn't visit the holy tomb of Simon and modern secular Israelis couldn't visit the American Colony Hotel.
Today any Israeli, who wishes, can visit the tomb of Simon the Just or sip English tea and nibble scones in the beautiful garden, in the heart of the American Colony Hotel. A little fountain bubbles, merrily in the middle of the garden giving a peaceful atmosphere to everything. Everything, excepting the small, square panes of glass in iron arch shaped frames, is made out of Jerusalem stone.
The small size of the stones, the neat, symmetric speckles made by the stone mason's round nose chisel, give away the date of the building as the middle of the 19th century when Jewish stone masons had learnt the art of dressing stone from European missionaries. Before this there was no building activity outside the Old City Walls and everybody, including the wealthy Huseini family lived in old buildings from the days of Suleiman the magnificent, more than 400 years ago, inside the walls.
We crossed over the main road, i.e. the old border, to Prophets Street which was on the Israeli side before 1967. This street leads out of the American Colony area. It is like a continuation of that neighborhood and so most of the early building activity of Jerusalem outside the walls took place here.
After the Crimean war of 1853 the Turks began permitting foreigners to purchase property in Palestine, as the country was known in those days. This combined with the massive immigration of Jews in the wake of new waves of anti Semitism in Europe lead to a flurry of building activity in Jerusalem.
This activity was undertaken, by both Christian and Jewish organizations. The Christians sought, by acts of Christian charity to demonstrate the beauty of Christian love and so gain converts among the Jews and the Moslems.
In this way Jerusalem of the late 19th century saw a massive increase in the number of schools, hospitals and inns built both by Christians and the Jews. Most of it took place along Prophets Street, where I was walking with my tourists.
Wishing you a great no news day. Yours sincerely. Leon..