It is Yom Yerushalayim on Wednesday. This is ‘Jerusalem Day’, the Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of the city in 1967, during the Six Day War. It seems as good a time as any to reflect on our own relationships with the capital of Israel. I’ve been to the country four times. Though I loved it from the off, my feelings with Jerusalem took a little longer to develop. During my first trip (in 2006) I did not visit the capital. I remember as we were driven from the Dead Sea to Tel Aviv, the driver stopped on a hillside road to allow us to look over the city. That brief, distant glimpse was as close as I got.
I returned to Israel in 2007, and arrived in Jerusalem on my birthday. We had an Arab tour guide (who I had met in Ein Bokek) and he gave us a superb day around the Old City. I enjoyed the Kotel particularly, and also the hummus joint he took us too in the Arab Quarter. While we were noshing and chatting, he said to me: “You’re more Israeli than most Israelis.” Thanks, man!
During the rest of our stay we fended for ourselves. We re-visited the Kotel and also went to Yad Vashem and the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre. I also remember a wonderful night at a bar called Colony (since closed, I believed). But, in truth, I felt a bit lost and overwhelmed in the city. It was so hot and I found the intensity of the Old City a little overbearing, apart from on Saturday morning which was sublime.
Still, at times I wished we were in Tel Aviv instead, a city I’ve always felt very relaxed and at-home in. I can navigate it pretty much as well as I can London, the city I grew up in. Even during my first day there I helped give an Israeli directions! For my third trip to Israel in February 2010, I based myself in Tel Aviv, and I made my lovely friend Tal laugh when, during an enjoyable day trip to Jerusalem, I suddenly said: ‘Actually, can we get back to Tel Aviv? I feel like a bit of peace and quiet.’ Peace and quiet in Tel Aviv, eh? Well, I knew what I meant!
Everything changed when I returned to Israel last summer, for the Once In A Lifetime trip. We stayed in Jerusalem for two weeks, living in a family’s apartment in Rehavia. I quickly found my navigational and emotional bearings there. By the end of the trip I was able to walk from Rehavia to have coffee with a friend in the German Colony, and return to Rehavia via the Kotel without even thinking about my route.
What joys there had been in between, thanks to the local knowledge and vitality of the Hebrew University students that had organised the whole trip. We volunteered at the Mahane Yehuda market, we drank and ate in a range of different bars and restaurants. We ushered in Shabbat at the Kol Rina synagogue, planted trees in the Aminadav forest and rode segues around the place. During our spare time I met Gilad Shalit’s father Noam, the NaNach Breslovers, several OyVaGoy readers, two MKs and many more besides. Not that it was all joy, my visit to the Temple Mount was a very mixed experience.
In the process of all this, I absolutely fell in love with Jerusalem. It might not have been love at first sight, as it was with Tel Aviv, but I now love it forever. Thanks to Liron Soffer – one of the aforementioned Hebrew University students – who introduced me to this song, Jerusalem of Gold. I can’t think of a song that so captures the complex history and emotions of a city like this one does.
Yom Yerushalayim Sameach everyone.