Jerusalemites react to Obama's visit to city

"It’s very nice to have Obama here so he can feel what it’s like when rockets are launched at us."

Obama, Netanyahu look at Dead Sea Scrolls (photo credit: Courtesy PMO)
Obama, Netanyahu look at Dead Sea Scrolls
(photo credit: Courtesy PMO)
One day after US President Barack Obama’s historic arrival to Jerusalem, residents expressed appreciation for the visit, reacted to the timing of rocket fire from Gaza, voiced frustration over Jonathan Pollard’s continued incarceration and sighed with relief that traffic was not as bad as they expected.
While finishing lunch with her 12-year-old daughter at a café on Ben-Yehuda Street, Iris Avrahami said she was pleased by Obama’s visit, and gratified that it coincided with Thursday’s rocket fire from Gaza.
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“Of course it’s very nice and very important to have Obama here – especially now so he can feel what it’s like when the Grad rockets are launched at us,” she said. “Now he can live like us for a few days.”
Addressing Israel’s relationship with America, Avrahami expressed hope that it improves.
“We must take a step forward in our relationship with [Obama], or else nothing good will happen,” she said.
Regarding the numerous road closing and traffic over the past two days, Avrahami said she took it in stride.
“Listen, when you’re living here you know there are good things and bad things,” she said. “This is part of life here. It inconvenienced me because I live downtown and was barely able to use my car, but I accept the situation with love and understanding because it’s part of being a citizen in Jerusalem.”
Meanwhile, Avrahami’s daughter, Noa, said that while she has great respect for Obama, she wished he would pardon Pollard.
“I’m very excited [that he came] because it is helpful to us because he’s from America and very famous and powerful,” she said. “I also respect him because he’s the first black [US] president and appreciate him because he’s responsible for so many countries.”
“I think he’s like a father figure to Israel,” continued Noa, before adding, “But I think he should free Jonathan Pollard for Passover because it’s the holiday of freedom.”
Claire Levy, who moved to Jerusalem 15 years ago from Switzerland, said she was encouraged that Obama came, but dubious of any meaningful breakthroughs with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“I’m positive because I think it’s a good thing that such an important man came here,” said Levy. “Still, I don’t know if I believe he will do anything for this country, but he’s here and we have to be happy about it.”
Regarding Thursday’s rocket fire, Levy said she doubted that it will impact Obama’s perception of the region.
“I don’t think Obama will think, ‘Oh, the poor Israelis,’” she said. “I mean it’s just two rockets – no big deal.”
As far as traffic was concerned, she said she thought it was much ado about nothing.
“Everyone’s been talking about traffic, but nothing has happened,” Levy said. “Personally, I’ve been very happy because I’ve been able to walk to work faster with the roads closed.”
Meanwhile, Eran Yoel David, who runs a Chabad station on Ben-Yehuda Street that offers to help people put on tefillin, primarily expressed concerns over Pollard’s protracted incarceration.
“Obviously the issues of Iran and Syria are the most important things for people globally, but for me, the big ‘private issue’ is freeing Jonathan Pollard,” said David. “I mean, let him go – the guy has suffered enough, I think.”
Echoing Noa, David added, “Now is the time of freedom.
Like they say at the Seder, ‘Give the Jews freedom from Pharaoh’ – now give Pollard freedom from prison.”
A nearby Western Wall worker, who requested anonymity, also expressed concern over Pollard’s imprisonment.
“I see people praying for him [at the Western Wall] all the time, including his wife,” he said. “The feeling is: ‘Why is this happening to this guy?’ [Pollard’s] situation is surreal, like something out of a Kafka novel.”
He went on to opine that Pollard is being made an example of to discourage American Jews from harboring loyalty for both nations.
“I mean, the guy made a mistake, but I have a feeling that the way he is being forced to pay for the mistake is a political message to Israel saying, ‘We’re friends, but at a distance,’” he said. “And I think it’s a message to Jews in the States against any dual loyalty.”
Meanwhile, Joseph Albarino, an American yeshiva graduate student from Boca Raton, Florida, who is studying nursing in Israel, said he supports Obama and believes the US president is in a difficult position in terms of pleasing both Jews and Arabs.
“I think it’s important that he’s here because the majority of the Jewish people have a preconceived notion of Obama as not caring about Israel,” said Albarino.
“But there’s nothing that he’s done to make me think that he doesn’t care about Israel. I think that he comes across as balanced, and because emotions are so high about an issue that people want him to fully support one [way] or the other, no one is happy.”
Albarino added that despite numerous warnings from friends about road closures and traffic, he rented a car to go to Ein Gedi and did not experience any problems, adding that he was “pleasantly surprised.”