Meeting the Next Door Neighbor

An essay in Issue 21, February 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. We did not want to eat in Amman's Toledo Hotel's restaurant, so we asked the man at the front desk if he could suggest a good restaurant within walking distance. He looked embarrassed, gave the elder gentleman standing next to us a sheepish grin, and said there are no restaurants within walking distance. "What kind of restaurant do you want?" asked the gentleman dressed in a suit, patient, refined. After one day in Petra and a three-hour drive to Amman, the Jordanian capital, we were in the mood for Chinese - something different than the chicken, kebab and rice we had enjoyed at every lunch and dinner. The gentleman said he knew of a very fine restaurant, but it also served Arab food. We acquiesced. It was too far to walk, he said, so he offered to take us there. "You can get a cab back to the hotel," he added. The four of us were open to adventure, so we went with the refined stranger and got into his car, a new Mercedes, full leather insides. As we slid onto the seats, we learned that our driver owned the Toledo Hotel. This seemed to be Arab hospitality to the nth degree. Here was the owner of a hotel that has its own restaurant driving his Anglo-Saxon guests to a different eatery. "Where are you from," he asked his four passengers as he started to drive. "America," said our friends. "Israel," we said from the back seat. "I was born in Haifa," the man said, looking into the rearview mirror at his guests squished together in the back. He proceeded to tell us that after the war - and it was clear he was talking about 1948 - he left Haifa and eventually reached Kuwait where he worked until he, and thousands of Palestinians like him, were kicked out. Then he moved to Amman. In the early 1990s, he opened the Toledo Hotel ( When our companions commented that the Toledo Hotel got the highest rating on a particular website, the owner said: "I want all my guests to feel like they are visitors in my own home." Thus spoke a man who had been forced to leave his own home at least twice in his lifetime. Because I was sitting in the back seat, I didn't catch every word he said about "victory" and "war," but I think he was saying that someone always loses and it is always painful. I felt compelled to tell him that, in my view, what felt like a victory in '67 eventually morphed into a tragic morass. I wanted to apologize to him for the pain Israel had caused him and his family, but I didn't. We arrived at the restaurant while I was still counting the reasons why I kept my mouth shut. "Someone always gets hurt in a war," he said, resigned, Mercedes notwithstanding. Then he called over the doorman and in Arabic told him to be sure to order us a taxi back to the hotel after our dinner. We learned later, from our jovial cab driver who wanted to get out of his cab and into the discoth?que, that the Tawaheen Al-Hawa Restaurant, where we had four waiters for our table of four, is considered the best restaurant in Jordan. The meal - delicious, aesthetic, and fresh - cost only 49 dinars ($69). The next morning my companion and I walked around the neighborhood adjoining the Toledo Hotel. The houses reminded us of the architecture in Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood and the homes in Abu Tor built in the 1930s and 40s. Bab el Wad Street led to Kfar Kassam Street, Kebiya Street, and Kalkilya Street - Palestinian place names. I thought of the street names in Katamon: Nili, HaLamed Hey, Negba, Yad Mordechai, Tel Hai, names from modern Israeli history. As I walked, it dawned on me that certain neighborhoods in Amman are the mirror image of Jerusalem: each neighborhood with its memorial names of massacres, battles, seminal places engraved in the hearts of the people who live on those streets. I loved visiting Jordan. It was like meeting a neighbor you've lived next door to for 40 years, but never met. The neighbor turns out to be friendly and interested in leading his life pretty much like you. He wants to succeed in business, enjoy the comforts of modern life, care for his family, have fun. He enjoys good food, leisurely meals, hot pita straight from the saj oven, and knows that warm hospitality is the best antidote to generations of hostility. An essay in Issue 21, February 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.