This is the Jerusalem we all love to imagine, and there’s plenty of it that’s just like that. Usually, that’s where we spend most of our time — biblical Jerusalem. It’s thrilling.
This time, though, we’re here to study, and for the first time, instead of staying in a hotel, we’re in an apartment in a real neighborhood (Bak’ah for those of you who know it). We arrived this afternoon after flying from 5 PM Monday DC time through to 2:30 PM Tuesday Jerusalem time. That’s a total of 14.5 hours with the layover in Frankfurt. So, exhausted and eager to get to bed, we spent the evening wandering around the neighborhood instead of going immediately to the Old City as we have in the past.
We needed coffee, milk and some other things so we stopped first at the supermarket just blocks from our "house." But guess what? Before we could get inside, we were stopped at the door, my bag was searched and we were sort of assessed before entering. Nicely, matter-of-factly, but for real. I took this photo of the security guys on the sly, that’s why it’s so blurry. But there you are. Need apple juice? Prepare to have the diaper bag searched.
Bags in tow, we went on to dinner at a wonderful grill/salad place. There are photos of both the salads and the place on the left, but guess what? Before we could go in we had to check in with the guard at the entrance. He asked me not to take his picture, but he was there. Hungry? Meeting friends for coffee? Prepare to be checked out not by the cuties at the next table, but by the guard at the door.
Wandering around after dinner, we found a sweet coffee place. Everyone was sitting outside; the traffic was buzzing by beyond the sidewalk, the coffee was great and we were in a great place – living a neighborhood life in another country — one of particular importance to us. But guess what? The coffee place is part of a local mall, along with a drugstore and some not-very-expensive (almost cheap) apparel stores. And guess who were sitting outside the doors, on stools, on the sidewalk? Yup – security guards. A quick check of our bags of coffee and bottled water, and of my back pack, and we were good to go. But there you are. Going for diapers or hand lotion? Prepare to be searched at the door.
I’m not writing this to complain. Today I just felt, in a different way, what it’s like to live here. Whatever your politics, the idea of a people so under siege that no grocery store or bowling alley or retail mall can exist without security guards checking everyone who enters, is creepy and sad. I know, I know, a grave portion of our globe is at some kind of risk. And I’d probably react the same way witnessing their struggles. But this is where I am, this is where I’ve come to study, this is where I look into the eyes of mothers in the baby food aisle and old ladies squeezing tomatoes and crews of students buying up unthinkable quantities of fast food. And as they move through their lives, relief from their sense of danger, of vulnerability, is possible, sustainable, only until the next time they walk out the front door. And that’s a hell of a way to live.