Saturday, April 18, 2015

My Favorite Saturday Spots in East Jerusalem

As I have written previously, Saturdays are pretty quiet in the Jewish parts of Jerusalem, as most businesses are closed due to the Jewish Sabbath.  While often this silence can be maddening, it has also motivated me be adventurous in seeking out new, interesting, and lively surroundings.

As of late, my wanderings have taken me to East Jerusalem's Bab a-Zahara neighborhood.  One of the first Arab neighborhoods built outside of the City, it was a bustling commercial area during the British Mandate and after the 1948 partition (in which East Jerusalem and the Old City were part of Jordan). I first happened upon the area when searching for some Palestinian art galleries, and have enjoyed peeling back its layers.  The area lies just outside of the Old City's Damascus Gate and is the meeting ground for several different communities cross paths.  You have the local Muslim population, who flock to the area for the bustling market as well as the Palestinian bus station that provides transportation to towns in the West Bank.  It also contains numerous Christian religious sites such as the Garden Tomb, and so it's not uncommon to see missionary groups from the U.S. and Europe wandering around.  The area's proximity to the French Institute and the American Colony Hotel also insure there is a presence of European NGO employees hanging around.

So here I want to share three spots in this area that have become my favorite haunts as of late.

Educational Bookshop
9 Salah Eddin St.

A delightful bookstore-cafe focused on providing information on Middle East culture and the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Here you can get everything from introductory books on Islam and conversational Palestinian Arabic to post cards of Banksy's murals on the separation barrier.  I felt at home seeing J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami's A New Voice for Israel displayed alongside works by Karen Armstrong, one of my favorite contemporary religious scholars. The crowd at any given time is a mix of locals to the neighborhood, foreign journalists, and curious tourists.  The upstairs cafe area is nice because it's the sort of place where you can sit for a few hours charging your devices without anyone bothering you or guilting you into buying more than a cup of tea (which you can get with your choice of sage, cardamom, chamomile, mint, or za'tar).

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Israel on Yom HaShoah: Train Tracks, Memory, Anxiety and Photography

Eleven years ago today, I was 18 and standing on the train tracks in Poland leading from Auschwitz to Birkenau as part of the Holocaust remembrance event, March of the Living.

A typical scene from March of the Living 
This year on Holocaust Memorial Day--Yom HaShoah--I find myself staring down a different train track that runs along Jerusalem's light rail on Jaffa St.  Every year the state of Israel observes a two-minute moment of silence on this day to commemorate six million Jewish lives lost in that horrible tragedy.  For two minutes, a siren blasts, and all activity stops.  Not only trains, cars, and buses, but people on the street stopping in mid action and conversation.  Our program director instructed us to visit public spaces on this day and film the two minute silence, as a way to examine the ritual in Israel from an educational and philosophical perspective. My friend Liz thought the view from the light rail would provide an interesting vantage point.

The symmetry with my experience eleven years ago barely even occurred to me.