O Jerusalem, city of high blood pressure

To get by, to understand and love this place despite its portrayal on the nightly news, I’ve found a bit of perspective is necessary.

jerusalem 311 black and white (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
jerusalem 311 black and white
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
At a young age someone told me I was argumentative. I immediately took issue with the assertion. As I became older, I found a certain amount of enjoyment in disagreeing with people, provoking them and watching their faces as I made no qualifications in stating those things which I held to be true and which I knew might offend others’ sensibilities.
This made for entertaining engagements, but while I sometimes won small victories, they were hesitantly offered at best, and usually with unspoken resentment.
Coming to conclusions of truth and perceiving the world through those definitions meant, for me, rejecting other perspectives, for if what I believed to be absolute were indeed absolute, how could a differing perception be worthy of consideration, time and respect?
Of course, I missed the obvious – that if I didn’t always behave consistently with my own set of beliefs, I had no business casually dismissing another’s. If I were deserving of some compassion, certainly others were as well.
ONLY RECENTLY did I begin to recognize the importance of perspective. I learned that if I am truly able to say “there, but for the grace of God, go I,” other perceptions of truths will be appreciated. All the more so in Jerusalem.
The city is not lacking in differences of opinion. Feeling appreciation for those differences is a tough sell. Realizing that those around me, with whom I share my life, are deserving of patience – and approaching each day with that in mind – is difficult, to say the least.
Day-to-day navigation in Israel’s largest city means consistently encountering many opposing minds. The veracity of such differences is demonstrated on a constant basis.
Only a few years ago, Jerusalem nearly shut down for the day with the influx of thousands of police officers for a gay pride parade – a parade that travelled a mere few hundred meters. The holy city is witness to weekly protests against the Saturday operation of a factory, a parking lot or other businesses. We are under consistent political threat of being split for the sake of a final-status agreement that is seemingly being chased eternally.
Our population is perhaps more diverse in culture, religion, race, lifestyle and political views than that of any other city in the country. Our ability to get along demands perspective.
Jerusalem is one of the most tolerant cities I’ve known – tolerant in the sense of live and let live – with conditions, of course. This is not a city in which anything goes, anywhere, anytime. Neighborhoods are clearly defined. Sensitivities can be centuries old, if not older. Property is political. Individuals act out and unintentionally lend a hand to forming scathing generalizations.
But yes, Jerusalem is indeed tolerant, in that nearly anyone can live here and go about daily routines regardless of societal category. There are multiple religious orders here, political opinions vary, and an honest accounting shows religious, secular, Arab, Jew and others working together, busing together and walking the same streets.
To respect my fellow Jerusalemites, I need not accept nor approve of their beliefs, lifestyles or any other of the means by which an open, pluralist society demonstrates its differences and fractures. But to get by, to understand and love Jerusalem despite its portrayal on the nightly news, I’ve found a bit of perspective is necessary.
I do not wish to tell anyone what must be done. It would be pompous of me to presume and preach; I am flawed like anyone else and in need of constant education, reexamination and discipline in order to survive.
But I can observe. And share.
I’ve learned – and only recently – that if I am to pilot through the encounters of this city without constant aggravation – the kind that gets the blood boiling – I need to see things the way my neighbors do. See, not necessarily accept.
Had I been raised in a hassidic home, I, too, might be out protesting the opening of a new mini-market on Shabbat. Had my family lost a home built without permits, I, too, might hold a bit of a grudge toward immigrants who receive government benefits. If I were a Tel Aviv transplant, I might be opinionated against the haredim, with only stories of violence and corruption to shape my beliefs.
A person from any one of the demographic sectors making up this city could easily drive another to vein-popping, color-changing shouts of loathing, exasperation or intolerance. Jerusalemites wear their insides on the outside, for everyone to see. The interactions forced upon us simply by living as we do – going to the bank, taking a cab, shopping in the shuk or hanging at the mall – become easier when we consider the backgrounds that formed our judgments. Knee-jerk reactions lessen in degree and frequency. Life truly becomes easier, more pleasant.
This can occur in Jerusalem. In Israel. In the Middle East.
UNDERSTANDING WHERE someone’s coming from and trying to appreciate it – that lesson that so many of us were taught as children – has become perhaps one of the most important for me in helping each day pass, to the extent possible, without the grind, reduction, judgements and explosions of anger so common to life in this city of principled stubbornness.
My realization of this, and my becoming able to internalize andimplement it, did not result in my immediate transformation into asmiling caricature of placidity. It didn’t mean compromising mypolitical views or heavenly convictions. It did not mean standing downin the face of being wronged – a dangerous precedent in our culture.
We cannot, and most of us do not, want to live alone. Solitary cabinsand self-reliance are not the preferred way for we urban warriors whoget up, work, eat, sleep and do it all over again the next day. Thatmeans relating. That means irritation. That means high blood pressure.
Allowing myself to try to remember that I can show compassion ratherthan impatience yet remain strong – this has become key in avoidingmuch of the daily hurt that comes with life in the busy, intense andcontested city we call home.
The writer is an internet editor at The Jerusalem Post.