Only in Jerusalem: The heart of town

I can still smell the savory scent of felafel, shwarma, burgers, fries and pizza and hear the tapping of falling rain on the stone streets

I admit it: I am hooked on downtown Jerusalem. For 12 years, my office was located on the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall. With escalating rent, parking expenses and the increasing inconvenience of workers and clients having to fight construction and traffic jams, our organization moved to Talpiot last month. I was opposed to the change. I loved feeling the daily pulse of Jerusalem in the heart of the city, sharing the crowded sidewalks with haredim, east Jerusalem Arabs, Christian clergy, traditional and secular citizens and tourists from around the world. In the early morning, I enjoyed watching the center wake up, with storeowners opening metal shutters and pulling down awnings on storefronts, municipal cleaners hosing down the cobblestones, trucks unloading goods, flower store owners setting up their colorful displays, saleswomen changing displays in store windows. Daytime was filled with its own special sounds and activities: the music of the violinist and accordion player under my office window, changing tunes according to the closest holiday; the call of the woman "messiah" warning to repent before it was too late; the muffled words from megaphones spewing political slogans as crowds gathered in Kikar Zion. Nothing was more energizing than leaving work in the late afternoon and being pulled into a festival or joining others watching folk singers, jugglers, magicians or a Latin American band, prompting me to throw a shekel or two into an open guitar case. I could gauge the change of season and the impending holiday by tables selling fake Crocs and Keds for Yom Kippur, made-in-China decorations for Succot, hats, gloves and umbrellas for winter protection, tablecloths for Pessah and flags for Yom Ha'atzmaut. I reveled in the costumes and accessories sold in the bazaars during Adar, and in seeing children and teenagers strut down the street in costume on Purim. I was intrigued as I observed visitors from around the globe parading in and out of the tourist shops on Ben-Yehuda, chatting in a multitude of languages, often dressed in shorts and T-shirts while we Jerusalemites were in winter jackets. Some even believed the signs - "Big Discounts for Brave Tourists" - as they bargained for souvenirs. I ceased being surprised bumping into a long-forgotten acquaintance visiting from the old country. Some scenes remain deeply ingrained in my mind: the Lubavitch devotees entreating teenage boys, soldiers and assorted other men to lay tefillin; the tempting display of pastries and burekas in the windows of the bakeries; the skinny mannequins in Castro's windows; the stylish hats in a rainbow of colors displayed in stores on King George Avenue. I can still smell the savory scent of felafel, shwarma, burgers, fries and pizza and hear the tapping of falling rain on the stone streets. Working in town was convenient: I could take a 10-minute break to run out and buy a new CD, get tickets for a concert or find a last-minute wedding gift on Yoel Solomon. I was spoiled by the proximity to the shuk, detouring on my way home to buy rugelach at Marzipan, ultra-fresh fish, savory spices or a still-warm loaf of bread at the natural bakery. Talpiot, with its crowded malls and discount superstores, just can't compare. Where else but in town can one find the diversity of shops that include tailors, shoemakers, a thread and yarn store, fabric centers, secondhand book stores? Sorry, Rami Levy, but there's no match in Talpiot for the nut vendors in the alley off Ben-Hillel or for Pinati's humous. Some things I definitely don't miss: the beggars sitting on the street corners, the smell of urine in the alleys, the trash scattered on the streets and sidewalks, the sound of policemen moving crowds away as suspicious packages are blown up by army sappers. "The midrahov [pedestrian mall] isn't going anywhere - you can always go back," indifferent colleagues and friends repeat, trying to console me. But they don't understand. Not being an integral part of the fabric of the day-to-day locale places me in another category. Now when I return to town, I feel like a tourist.