Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hidden in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is known for hiding it's most amazing places down little alleys ways and behind obscure and hidden doorways.

Every Jerusalemite has been given an address, only to arrive at the building and find no trace of the supposed business or office...UNTIL, after circling the building several times, one spies an unused looking unmarked door in the back corner, behind some bushes, and gingerly pushes it open. Inside he will probably be met with a nondescript stairwell, seemingly leading to nowhere. No signs or names anywhere in sight. If he is uninitiated to the ways of Yerushalayim he might just give up and leave, but for the rest, well, they know the adventure of discovery is only beginning. Some unmarked door off this stairwell will produce the treasures sought: enormous state of the art business offices, sports centers, government offices , art studios, all bustling hubs of people and enterprise.

Lama, lama you ask (why, why?) ... but then you smile and realize that you wouldn't want it any other way. This is Israel, this is Yerushalayim.

I suppose to the person born in Jerusalem, what I am about to say will sound really silly, but I found what I felt was the greatest treasure of all a few weeks ago...and it's one that every kid and his parent knows about - like you know where to find the corner grocery store in your neighborhood. Except I didn't know about it.

Directions here are given not by street addresses but by landmarks. Many times over the last few years, in trying to describe a location in the moshava hagermanit, (German Colony) people would say to me, you know, it's by the swimming pool...or say matter-of-factly "you know where the swimming pool is, right?"

Nooo! I had no idea where this swimming pool was!!.. until that is about a month ago. I stumbled across it by accident. Waiting for something or someone near the big super(market) on Emek Refaim, I decided to walk down a little dark corridor between the super and the change store & coffee shop. The hallway went into the building that housed a few shops... and i had never looked to see what else was inside the building. I knew there was a gym inside somewhere, but as i walked around the corner...i saw a man sitting in a chair as if to take tickets or money...and i don't suppose........

OMG.... i peeked in and i could see just the beginnings of what i realized was not just any looked huge!! When I asked to go in and look I found behind this doorway a beautiful outdoor pool with slides, patios lined by a lawn with tables and umbrellas, and an enclosed olympic size pool that is absolutely gorgeous.

I was stunned. Down this dark little funny shaped hallway, there was a treasure of treasures. Right after my discovery, someone told me the pool was closing for good at the end of October, a Jerusalem rumor that, thank God, turned out to be false....but it sent me running with camera in hand and intention to plead for mercy for the pool.

The pool is open May - October for public swimming, swimming classes, exercise classes, and even sports a swimming team. What makes this treasure even more special is that originally, in the 50's before the moshava was built up, before there was a super or an Aroma coffee shop, even before there was a building with a funky little hallway to go down, there was this wonderful swimming pool....out in the the field. Perhaps not the enclosed olympic pool yet, but...a lovely pool that I am sure was the summer hot spot this edge of town.

I was told that I could take pictures but not show the faces of the people swimming....for privacy and religious reasons....and since it is already mid October, the pool was accommodating... it was relatively empty, but lovely on a sunny autumn afternoon.

Forever the teacher, Jerusalem reminds us that the hidden things are worth the search, treasures to be cherished.

.... sometimes, the hidden treasures are people.

See more pool pictures here

Friday, October 1, 2010

Simcha on Rashbag

The long fall holidays in Israel are now drawing to a close......from the apples and honey of our New Year - Rosh haShana - to the deeper nature of Yom Kippur - either somber or joyful depending on one's tradition; continuing into the sukkot of Sukkot, and ending with a tradition of rejoicing and dancing with the Torah (Simchat Torah) - a practice kept by religious Jews, but the spillover of which is enjoyed by all ...

....if you live in my neighborhood anyway.

I returned home from work last night around 10:30 - 11pm...and the street was bursting with sounds of music, laughter, dancing....coming from all different directions and emphasized by techno-music equipment at its best. It was a block party of sorts, not limited to my block only - except that the dancing takes place, not on the street, but in the various synagogues or beit knesset throughout the neighborhood..or in their parking lots!

After a brief moment of resting and recuping from work, and resisting giving in to the back injury i sustained that day on my job, i grabbed my camera and headed for the source of the loudest sound system ! (what amazed me was that you might expect competing music from so many sources, but it seemed to all blend together!). I found the action I was looking for...t was at the very far end of Rh. Rashbag at the Edmond Safra Beit their parking lot and side yard.

As I walked down Rh. Rashbag I could hear the music coming down the terrace from the shuls on Rh. ben Yoetzer...and I was tempted to divert from Rashbag to take a peek there. But.....truthfully, Rashbag is my street, and we are still courting. Any side glance or trip, no matter how innocent or curious, might be misunderstood, and i didn't want to take that chance.... so.... in the end, my loyalty to Rashbag won over any desire to go up the terrace :)

Actually, the walk down Rashbag gave me opportunity to reflect and remember my own deep thoughts of late...and to ponder the personality of the neighborhood.

Just a few days ago, the sukkot (succas) were being frantically constructed - hammering and the sounds of building were filling the air... neighbors were sneaking off with the fronds of my favorite palm trees for the tops of their sukkot, and fall was being delayed with more heat waves.

After a week of the nighttime street being lit up with the colors of the succa and the smells and sounds of the meals and parties going on in them, there was now the sound of the succot coming down..for the most part a quiet and relaxed disassembling. Children could be seen dragging the now dried out fronds to the trash bins while parents packed away the tents and the poles of the succa.

For all practical purposes the chag was over, except for that wildly happy music blaring from the synagogues, and all people dotting the mirpasot (balconies) up and down the block as families stepped out in the night air to listen and enjoy. (Technically in Israel the Chag was over, but in an effort to identify with Jews in the Diaspora for whom Simchat Torah is an extra day, this second night of hakafot or Hakafot Shniyot is always observed. (Hakafot basically means "dancing in circles with the Torah"). Because it is not an official chag, it is relaxed from all or most of the regulations of the Yom Tov.

The yard itself was filled with men and boys dancing with the Torah, with each other, clapping and singing and reciting blessings in between. Women and children, old men and women, looked on, also clapping and singing. Candy and treats were thrown over the crowd several times, sending children scampering to find the treasures now scattering across the floor. Refreshments were available for those who wanted and neighbors, like myself, were totally and happily welcomed.

It was enough to ease the pain from my day's back injury at my job, and lift my spirits...

..As i returned home the melodies of one of my favorites, Anachnu ma'aminim, filled the nighttime skies and the holiday of Sukkot / Simchat Torah 5771 was now history......tonight when i walked down seemed too quiet and rather dark and dull.

View more pictures of Simcha on Rashbag