Monday, June 22, 2015

Work in Progress

I may have mentioned before that I live in the center of Downtown Jerusalem. Reactions to this information are mixed. They range from “That is so so cool!” to “Um, why?” The short answer is that I wanted to live alone and this was the best and most affordable option, while still being walking distance to everywhere other single Orthodox Jews live. And for the most part, my apartment situation has been an utter delight. My apartment is light and airy, tiny but perfectly sized for me, and truly in a fabulously central location. Almost no complaints. Almost. Although, I do have at least one complaint, and IT IS HUGE.

One of the things people worried about with me living in town is the noise. (No one here was worried it was dangerous to live there alone, because #Israel.) They thought my proximity to bars and restaurants would keep me up at night and cause me untold angst. For some reason, though, the noise of the restaurants and bars barely registers in my little studio. Even though they are open every night (including Friday night- sigh) and even though I am only one flight up and leave my windows open for the breeze, it is not the boisterous chatter of people much more social than me that is causing me the most distress. It is the roadwork.

Most people who now hear where I live wonder, “Haven’t they been working on your street for a while now?” Why yes, kind friends, they have! They have been working on “fixing” my street since before I moved in, and I have no doubt, will continue working on it till long after I am gone (either after my lease is up or at 120, whichever comes first.) I would like to say that the municipality is working on a huge upgrade to both the city and the world, based on the amount of time this renovation is taking, but I literally have no clue what the plan is with this street, and it’s been 6 months!
Site of "Construction/Brick Moving/Earsplitting Noise" at Night

They seem to be moving the barriers side to side, incrementally, weekly. I am pretty sure they are doing this purposely, to mess with me. Sometimes they will put down new bricks, sometimes, those bricks are gone the next day. Sometimes there are cranes and bulldozers, other times, shovels and jackhammers. Sometimes there are barriers, sometimes you are free to wander in and fall to your death in an unguarded hole in the ground. It’s truly an exciting game of “What on earth are they doing?”

But honestly, I wouldn’t care at all if they wanted to build a new light rail line through the street if it wasn’t such a huge, life-altering inconvenience to me with no foreseeable end. Take, for example, the fact that the road is essentially a one-car-at-a-time quagmire that is perpetually filled with honking cars. If, for some reason, I wished to subject someone giving me a ride, or a cab driver to that mess, that would be one thing. But even if I did, I’d be caught in a web of gates, keeping me from my door, unless I wanted to climb back up the block and then down, or down the block and then back up. That is to say, there is no point in getting a ride to my block, as I will essentially have to walk 2 extra blocks anyway. This also makes food or grocery delivery all but impossible, as I feel horrible making anyone deal with the construction zone that is my street. You can imagine what a delight this was during the weeks I was moving in and delivery men would come with my furniture. No amount of “I’m so sorry” could wipe the scowls off their faces after tangling with my street.

But truly, the worst part is the noise, as everyone had warned me. See, in New York, road work and construction work in general are often done overnight (on highways) and on private streets during working hours, so as not to disrupt the sleeping residents of that area. Not so in downtown Jerusalem! Prime brick- moving hours are from 6-8 AM and premium jackhammering takes place from 10pm to 12 am most nights. In case you’re playing at home, that’s before most people wake up and while most people are trying to get to sleep! And if you’re wondering what is going on from 8 am until 10 pm in that construction area… you guessed it! Nothing! Perhaps the workers are catching up on all that sleep they’re missing while they assault my eardrums late at night and early the next morning. And lest you think it’s just the jackhammering and bulldozing that make up the soundtrack to my life these days, there is also varying levels of screaming that takes place amongst the workers as they move their bricks. And I assure you, there are few things more melodious than a man yelling “Ahmed! Ahmed!” at his friend who is down the block, jackhammering, oblivious to any other sounds. Only I am privy to the constant and unending calls of “Ahmed!,” as Ahmed works to blow out my hearing faculties from a different vantage point.

And here it is in the daytime-true beauty!
I think I had basically learned to block the sounds out, and then it became summer and I started leaving my windows open for air, and then the sounds traveled from outside and magically ended up right near my bed. Sometimes, I don’t notice that it’s that bad and then a friend will sleep over and inform me in the morning that she “couldn’t sleep a wink” due to all the noise. And then I feel terrible, because my goal in life is to be an amazing hostess and show people the best Jerusalem time imaginable.

So that’s basically what it’s like to live on a construction site for 6 months, stretching out into infinity. Do I think the work will ever be done? In my low moments- no. I assume they are building an underground tunnel to China or spearheading a Jerusalem subway project on my block without telling anyone. I imagine there are no actual plans for the street, and that the brick-moving will continue, interminably, forever. Who really knows? All I know is that it’s another way Israel is showing me that it’s not perfect, because nothing is perfect. There will be bumps along the way, but I think living on a noisy street in Jerusalem beats living on a quiet street in Queens any day!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Taking the "Home" Out of Homeland

         Today I was informed that I am not a resident of Israel, as I previously believed. Six Supreme Court Justices from the United States informed me that, as far as they were concerned, I am a resident of Jerusalem, Full Stop. Or Jerusalem, Earth. What has been universally regarded as the capital of the Jewish homeland for 67 (and over 3,000) years is suddenly in no man's land, a casualty of those who would rather see this city as part of a political agenda, instead of a home to thousands of Israelis. 
          And so Jerusalem, which is the home of the Knesset and the Supreme Court, and the city mentioned in Torah almost 700 times and never once in the Koran, is apparently not to be considered the capital of the Jewish State. Because they say so. And so, please G-d, when I have children who will hopefully be born in some hospital in undisputed and US-sanctioned West Jerusalem, and I apply for an American passport (because I still love and appreciate the country of my birth), those children with be from "Jerusalem, the Universe." "Jerusalem, Nowhere." "Jerusalem, We are too scared of World Opinion to be honest and say it's Israel."
          To me, this is a real tragedy. It's negated what our ancestors died for, in Jewish history and in the history of this State. And if I'm honest, it's an act of defiance against our own self-determination. We are being told that the United States is denying our right to choose our own capital. The Cabinet is ostensibly saying that, so as not to offend the minority, you must gravely insult the majority. This whole debacle does nothing but weaken the Jewish claim to this city, and perhaps that is the point. Perhaps there is an unsaid goal that if people say Jerusalem isn't really part of Israel, it will make it so. And the army of anti-Zionists and anti-Semites worldwide is jubilant at this public slight. Just looking at the comments sections of the various articles about this case will give you a glimpse into the international damage this is causing to a people that suffers one assault after another. The comments are rife with hate and fresh anti-semitic epithets, showing us all that yet again, we are alone in our fight for justice. The United States, our eternal and natural ally, is the country that is now causing all of Israel's detractors to crow with delight, turning this basically clerical issue into one that threatens our very legitimacy in this city.
           Well I, for one, refuse to be told that the capital city of Israel is not actually located in Israel. I refuse to believe that due to political correctness and a fear of condemnation from the Arab World (and- gasp! Europe), children born in Jerusalem have no country to call their own. And I pray for the day when the State Department and the president and the Supreme Court of the USA agree with me and change this ridiculous ruling. But until that time, I remain a proud resident of Jerusalem, eternal capital city of the State of Israel.
Me in a Jerusalem Tshirt with an Israeli flag- sorry State Department!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

This Is Just a Drill

        It is 7:10 PM, Jerusalem time. I just left the stairwell of my very old apartment building, following the second emergency siren today. Don't panic. If you're concerned because you haven't been up on the news today, there's no great cause for alarm. These sirens were planned weeks (and maybe months) ago to prepare the nation in case of war. We require these drills like elementary school kids require fire drills- in case of emergency. And yet we know all too well that in this country, an emergency is a very real possibility. I don't mean to scare anyone, especially in the relative calm that we Jerusalemites have been, thank G-d, enjoying these past few months. But today was a wake-up call, that those of us who live here can get comfortable, just not too comfortable with the status quo.
       I read that today is one year since the "three boys" went missing. In case you don't know, I'm referring to Eyal, Gilad and Naftali- three Israeli boys who were kidnapped and killed in short order, but whose whereabouts were unknown for weeks, causing Jews in Israel and around the world to unify in a way that had never happened before to my memory. I can remember in my life pre-aliyah, going to a rally in the center of Manhattan, demanding the release of the boys (who we hoped were still alive) and praying with a fervor reserved for Yom Kippur. I can remember Jews coming together regardless of observance level or denomination or political orientation, praying for the safe release of our Jewish brothers. As we all know, it was not meant to be. The boys were killed immediately, but their whereabouts remained hidden for those torturous weeks. A revenge attack on an Arab boy followed, vilified by almost all Jews, because even in our deepest grief, that is not how we as Jews behave. And then the rockets. And the sirens. And the tunnels discovered. And the human shields. And the soldiers' funerals with mourners in the thousands. And the Iron Dome in all it's blessed glory. And the canceled Israel trips. And the ceasefires. And the ceasefires broken by Hamas in mere hours. And the flight cancellations. And then the quiet. The quiet end to a summer deferred.
             A year has passed since that crazy, scary, incomprehensible time and today I heard my first siren in almost that long. And it wasn't to warn me that a rocket was headed my way. It wasn't sounded to warn me that we were living in a war zone, and that we had just 90 seconds here in Jerusalem to take cover. It was to remind me that here in Israel, with enemies named Hezbollah and Hamas, Syria and Iran- we will always be targeted, so we must make sure that we stay safe as a country, and that we stay strong as a nation. Am Yisrael Chai.