Life in the 50s: Right under our noses

If we wanted to, each of us Jerusalemites could pack every day full of fun, enlightening and interesting activities.

downtown jerusalem 88 (photo credit: )
downtown jerusalem 88
(photo credit: )
At the end of a recent activity-filled afternoon and evening, I found myself wondering if our friends and family abroad realize how many fun, meaningful and interesting things there are to do in Jerusalem. I had called my friend Bella to see if she wanted to come to the Seeds of Peace Café at Jerusalem's YMCA, which was featuring three illustrious speakers: Al-Quds University president and People's Peace Treaty initiator, Sari Nusseibeh, author Amos Oz and New York Times Jerusalem correspondent Steven Erlanger. I told her I'd meet her after the launching of the Akim organic garden that I was planning to attend after work and she said she was going to be there as well. So we met at the Akim-Jerusalem's hostels for the mentally and physically disabled on Derech Beit Lehem, where we got to taste broccoli so fresh (we picked it ourselves) it was actually sweet, and to hear the pride in the voices of the Akim residents who proclaimed, "We planted it!" Guiding the new gardeners was organic gardener par excellence Tzahi Even-Or, of the Shomera Environmental Group, whose vast gardening wisdom I'd already been exposed to in a gardening class he teaches in the Jerusalem Forest. In addition to learning how to build a raised vegetable bed and how to prune fruit trees, students develop a love of the forest, which is part of the plan: Shomera is dedicated to preserving the pitiful little that is left of this fast disappearing gem we have at the edge of our city. Bella and I then crawled through traffic the couple of miles to the YMCA and talked about how we really should have ridden our bikes. Next week, we said, when we attend the Ethiopian evening at Bet Avi Chai, we would do just that. The gathering at the café turned out to be a standing-room-only event in the classically beautiful YMCA auditorium. If you've never been, it's worth a visit. Although the acoustics were bad, the evening's tone was amicable as each speaker praised the other's book about growing up in Jerusalem (Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness and Nusseibeh's recently released Once Upon a Country). Nothing surprising was said, but it was good to be in the company of people who are optimistic about "the situation." Nusseibeh was asked what Israeli Jews need to know about Palestinians that we don't know. He chose to answer by saying that public acknowledgement by Israel of the suffering caused the Palestinians by the conflict, would go a long way toward creating peace. Oz said: "For the first time in history, the people are ahead of their leaders. They know there will be a two-state solution." After the lecture Bella was planning to go to Balkan folk dancing, a weekly event on Emek Refaim, and I decided to join her. I used to be a regular at this activity, which pairs good exercise with great music, and is fun until the knees start to complain. Neither my 15-year-old nor my husband was home for dinner that night. Both of them were off participating in other activities in this event-filled city of ours: Gabe was selling tickets to his school play, The Secret Garden, an impressive production that students from the Democratic School put on themselves, and my husband went to hear a jazz pianist in town. We stopped at Bella's house for a bite to eat before the dancing and I joked with her husband that she and I were on a triple date - we'd gone from one activity to a second together and were about to go to a third. "It's like camp," Bella laughed as we headed out the door. As Bella and I went to yet another activity together the following week - to hear an Arab children's choir sing in the Sheikh Sa'id neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber, which is about to be cut off from the rest of the village by the security fence - I told her about my plans to write this column and my unease in writing about the good life in Jerusalem when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees are still banging on our doors, trying to get back home. "That's life," said Bella, ever wise. "There is pleasure, and there is suffering. They coexist. But the Palestinians aren't the only ones who suffer. Our kids have to serve in the army." Not to mention the many Israeli families forever wounded by the murder of loved ones in suicide bombings or by the death of a beloved son or father or brother in war. But life, even in a war zone, does go on. If we wanted to, each of us Jerusalemites could pack every day full of all the fun, enlightening and interesting activities the capital has to offer. Those who associate Jerusalem with secular flight, poverty and a growing haredi population should be aware that there is another side to this city - and you don't have to look hard to find it.