Fear and faith in Jerusalem’s Old City

Despite unrest, tourists bullish on visiting holy sites.

TOUR GUIDE Boris Potastinikov, who is based inside Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, says tourism is down considerably this Passover. (photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
TOUR GUIDE Boris Potastinikov, who is based inside Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, says tourism is down considerably this Passover.
(photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
 Amid the specter of an unrelenting terrorism wave that is as unpredictable as it is brutal, thousands of Jewish and Christian pilgrims nonetheless traversed the Old City’s ancient streets on Sunday on Passover and the Greek Orthodox Palm Sunday with varying degrees of fear and faith.
“We are all concerned about our freedom in our land of Israel, and our capital of Jerusalem, which we love,” said Rachel Agiv, a Tel Aviv resident who says she visits the Old City three times a year on holidays.
“We want to travel here, but we always look around us to see if it is dangerous. But we still come here despite the fear, because we believe in God.”
Agiv compared with clear concern the existential threats Jews faced during the Exodus from Egypt, and now in their homeland itself.
“Our history is full of a lot of wars and a lot of problems, and now it is the same as when we were persecuted,” she said. “We are a little bit afraid, but Passover is a special holiday, so we come here because it is important to us, and we cannot allow fear to stop us.”
“It is a mitzva to come here three times a year for Passover, Succot and Shavuot,” added Agiv’s friend, Riki Reuven, who traveled with her and her older brother from Tel Aviv for the day. “I am afraid, but I come because I believe.”
Still, Riki’s brother, Doron Reuven, said he felt relieved by the visibly heightened security.
“I see police everywhere, which makes me feel safe, but I also have faith in God,” he said.
“Israel is our country, and Jerusalem is our city, and we will continue to come here because of this.”
Eyal Turjeman, who entered the Old City through Jaffa Gate with his wife Suzi and their three young daughters, ages 10, 8 and 4, echoed Reuven’s sentiments that the heightened security reassured him.
“There are many policemen here and we feel safe,” he said.
However, he noted that their sense of security rapidly dissipates upon entering Arab sections of the Old City, and capital.
“The West is okay, but in east Jerusalem we are afraid,” he explained, adding that his eldest daughter, Sapir, repeatedly expressed concerns about entering the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
Meanwhile, Anna Kolesnik, an Orthodox Christian from southern Ukraine, who traveled with her husband to visit the Christian Quarter, said that compared to her country, Jerusalem feels reassuringly safe.
“This is an important holiday for us, and we’re here to visit the place where Jesus Christ was crucified, and to pray, of course,” she said.
“I feel especially safe here compared to my own country because we are having a lot of problems at the moment, and fortunately here, I feel much safer. We’ve had no problems at all, and everywhere we see policemen and soldiers and have not seen one instance of aggression.”
“Everyone is very friendly,” she added. “I am very thankful to Israel because it is so comfortable here and it is nice.”
While the Tourism Ministry has yet to calculate this year’s number of visitors, tour guide Boris Potastinikov, who works at Israelgates.
com, a few meters inside Jaffa Gate, lamented what he deemed a considerable drop in tourism during Passover for the last two years.
“The tourism has gone down very much this year, I think by 50 or 60 percent,” he said while actively searching for clients.
Asked what he attributed the precipitous drop to, Potastinikov cited an ailing international economy compounded by the ongoing violence in the Middle East.
“It’s economics and security concerns,” he said.
“For example, I think that if somebody from Kentucky watches TV and sees bombs going off in the Middle East, for him Israel is the same place. So they would prefer to go to other places.”
Nonetheless, a group of haredi men could be seen and heard only a few meters away singing psalms in Hebrew, seemingly without a care in the world.