As you drive up to Jerusalem through its main entrance, you'll notice that the view is changing. A modern bridge is being built for the light rail that will make the commute within Jerusalem much easier. But until the bridge is completed, cars entering the city here will be stopped by the traffic lights at Ginot Saharov and be greeted by a new neon sign: the number 40 intermeshed with turrets and a tower. I believe that the intention is to leave the sign in place for the coming year until Jerusalem celebrates it 41st year of reunification. I am fortunate to live close enough to Jerusalem to visit daily if I choose; I'm blessed that I spend almost every holiday in the capital; and I'm honored that my family can trace back some of its history to this incredible city. Like the rest of us, though, I am guilty of all too often taking this majestic city for granted. It is with much introspection that I remind myself that the "40" Jerusalem sign is a reminder of how good I have it, especially in light of the generations that came before me and their yearning to be part of this city. When speaking of Jerusalem, 40 seems like such an insignificant number in a city where cobblestones need to be carbon-dated to determine their age. We may consider alternative numbers to commemorate:
3,007 years since the capture of Jerusalem by King David
2,977 years since the building of the First Temple
2,523 years since the building of the Second Temple
1,369 years since the Jews have been allowed into the city after a banishment of 503 years
147 years since the first neighborhoods were built outside the Old City walls
In 1907, the Jewish National Fund leased the land above the garden neighborhood of Rehavia, and below, the very pretty Nahlaot, and proceeded to build housing for Jewish workers. The housing was inexpensive, the walls were thin and every house shared a wall as well as a cistern with its neighbor.
The neighborhood was quickly filled by haredi Jews who performed all kinds of manual labor. A synagogue - "The Gra" - was established at the same time as the rest of the area, and has most probably not missed a single service during the last 100 years.
Sha'arei Hessed ("the gates of kindness") is such a small area that you can miss it in the time it takes to blink twice, especially on a Thursday morning in July, which is when I went in search of a house in the neighborhood. The area was quiet, leafy - in fact overgrown - and the houses wore their age. I was hoping to take a picture of No. 10 Rehov Eliezer Hakalir.
As I parked my car, I heard a bulldozer swing its shovel, followed by the thunder of plaster hitting dirt. As I stepped out onto a street that time had forgotten, I saw the remains of my grandfather's house hanging like a sad piÃ±ata from the end of the bulldozer's shovel.
In 1907, my great-great-grandparents, whose families had been living in the Old City for a little less than 100 years, left the comforts of their home, and went off to the wilderness, west of the city, to set up a new home in Sha'arei Hessed.
When their daughter died of pneumonia in 1923, they took in her children: a boy and a girl aged three and four respectively. My grandfather grew up on this quiet street across from a small grocery store, a stone's throw away from a shul.
Did the Jerusalem of the Twenties bring him comfort? Did he celebrate his family's long association with the city, or was he a young man eager for adventure far from an ancient city?
As I watched my grandfather's childhood home come down, a few realizations hit me. Jerusalem may be ancient but not dead, as its real estate prices can attest. It is a vibrant city, filled with history and nostalgia. But, above all, it has a future.
My grandfather's home, which had only one bedroom and an outhouse, has made way for a new home for another family, where future generations will be raised, within a quiet neighborhood, with a store across the way.
One of my favorite places in Jerusalem is Mahaneh Yehuda. The open-air market was established during the Ottoman rule over the city, in the early 16th century. Arab and later Jewish merchants set up their stalls just off Jaffa Street which, at the time and for many centuries, served as the main thoroughfare of Jerusalem.
I cannot imagine that much has changed in the shuk, and the fresh and colorful produce is a feast for the eyes.