Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Jerusalem - seen through the veil of time.


When did I first encounter Jerusalem?

It was a longing of mine of old to see, what had been but a dream since my childhood-days. Biblical stories that I had heard as a child in Germany seemed in those days to me like fairy tales.

In July 1945 when I arrived in Erez Israel to join a Kibbutz in Emek Jesrael I was already pregnant. At the end of nine months of breastfeeding my daughter, I was given a 9 days leave.
This gave me an opportunity to do and see what I had dreamed off.
Autumn 1946 and off I went by bus which drove along the ancient Kings Road via Affula, Meggido, Je’nin and Nablus to Jerusalem.
A cousin of my father, the Nathan family and her old father Adolf Brotzen, the brother of my grandmother, lived in Ben Jehuda Street. They kindly put me up on a couch in their living room.
Their charming son, then still in school, took me to see many of the sites in the old city, some Churches, the spice market, the sheep market and other sections of the markets, each with its distinct smell.
In the narrow lane (that is how it was in those days) I stood in awe looking skywards up the Wailing Wall.
All of these places are unforgettable sights for me.
The next day I went up to Mount Scopus and walked into the magnificent building of the Hadassah Hospital. It seemed like palace to me, all glittering and shining.
When I approached the matron and mentioned to her that I was a new immigrant, she called on a young nurse and told her to show me every thing I wanted to see and hear about.
Such treatment, I felt like a queen. She also directed me to the amphitheater of the university with the magnificent view over the Judean dessert, the Dead Sea and mountains of Moav beyond.
The next day I traveled by bus to Kalia at the Dead Sea.

The house in Ben Jehuda Street, that my relatives had lived in and Dr. Nathan had his dental clinic, was badly damaged when a bomb blew it up in 1947. They, and others like them, were put up in temporary quarters in the Bezalel building.
This charming schoolboy, who had introduced me to Jerusalem, fought in the War of Independence and fell in 1948 in the defense of Gush Ezion, a settlement near Jerusalem.
His sister married a police officer and moved to Herzlia. The parents whom I visited in 1950 were heartbroken and died soon afterwards.

In April 1948 the Old City of Jerusalem, after a long struggle, fell into the hands of the Jordanian Army. Jerusalem was divided into East and West with a strip of no-mans-land in-between. Dividing concrete walls were build to guard against snipers.

My next encounter with Jerusalem was as a Tourist guide from 1960 on wards.
The Tourists arrived in Israel via the border crossing at the Mandelbaum Gate from the Kingdom of Jordan , where they had visited many of the holy sites and it was up to me to show them around the Western part of Jerusalem.
Mount Zion, the Dormition Church and the Room of the last Supper. Climbing up the to the roof of King David’s Tomb, I used to point out what ever sites in the old city were visible.
From Abu Tor I looked towards the Old City while I stood facing the Jordanian Guard.
Another vantage point was the roof of Notre Dame. The front of the building faced the Wall of the Old City and the New Gate, which was in Jordan while the back entrance was from the Israeli side. The Street below, thrown with barbed wire was “No-Man’s-Land”.
Climbing unto the roof, a vast panoramic view spread out in front of my eyes.
A long, pasted together yellow strip of nondescript paper cardboard was sold to help identify all the lovely places one could see and yearned to touch, longed to walk in the lanes and discover long forgotten history.

My guiding experience and encounter with Jerusalem changed drastically with the Six Day War in 1967, as result of which the dividing line between East and West became invisible on the surface.
On the way to Mount Scopus one could drive back and forth and cross again and again what had been for so long the borderline. I could walk along streets in East and West, that had been closed and walled up for the last 20 years.
Within two weeks of the end of the fighting a small group of Tourist Guides, I among them, was shown all the places that I had been pointing out from the distance. We were very fortunate to be guided by Prof. Seew Vilnai, the author of the then prevailing and excellent Guidebook. He had been a commander in the Old City during the War of Independence in 1947-49 and knew the place inside out.
Tens of thousands, if not millions, of tourist streamed into Israel and I was guiding group after group through the narrow lanes sharing with them the excitement of being able to visit the many Holy Sites without having to cross borders.

1968 my daughter got married to the son of one of the founding members of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, on the southern border of Jerusalem. Six grandchildren are the result of it, one of whom fell in 2002 while fighting in Je'nin. He is buried in Ramat Rachel where he was born.

It was early on a Saturday morning that I stood in Ramat Rachel, watching the sunrise from afar over the mountains of Moav waiting for the Rabbi, being a very religious man, who walked right across Jerusalem to perform the circumcision of my second grandson. I suddenly realized that my grandson is born a free person, born of parents who were born as free people in this country.
Somewhere in one of my bottom drawers, there is something I wrote then and there. It was a very moving moment for me. It gave me the feeling, as if my generation had been put to sleep and on the sudden awakening realized the next generation had accomplished what we had not been able to achieve. Jerusalem was no longer devided.
My son got married in 1980 and settled in Jerusalem, soon there were three more grandsons. That was as good an excuse as any for me to make frequent visits aside from my guiding.

In the meanwhile much water has flown under the bridges.

For 40 years we lived in Haifa where my husband had found work.
1995 I was widowed after having nursed my husband through his illnessd , and looking after him in hospital, during treatment and at home.
Suddenly there I was, all alone. My son Danny encouraged me to move to Jerusalem, so that if necessary he could look after me.
All my grandchildren are grown up by now and soon number nine of my great-grandchildren will be born.

The thirteen years that I live in Jerusalem are a very unique and special period in my life. Having found a centraly located very convenient, high ceiling ground floor flat near to where my son lives, it was in need of a very extensive renovation. As the architect did not seem to understand my special needs, as an alone living old woman, I sacked him, designed what I wanted and supervised the workmen, which obviously was not seen in a positive light. How can a woman know, how things should be done. The end result is a pleasant sunny place, people walking in, saying “Whaww” how nice, inviting, and comfortable. My own paintings adorn the walls in my home.
Living and functioning in Jerusalem I would not want to have missed.
Jerusalem has become the focal point for all my family get together, including my son Miki and his family who live in Karkur near Chedera.
My son Danny drops in frequently and is a great support for me. The grandchildren come as often as their time allows them and my great-grandchildren when their parents bring them along.
As a family clan we meet several times a year on sad and happy occasions, either in Ramat Rachel at my daughter Manja’s place, or at my sons or my place, or up in the mountains as a surprise party for Shirel, my eldest great-granddaughter, at her coming of age, all of 12 years old.
My activities in Jerusalem center around several aspects. I participate and am active in several different Interfaith Encounter groups as well as in Inter-Cultural meetings, give lectures, interviews, write articles, poems and given workshops at national and international conferences.
Meeting the “Other”, what ever group, religion or nationality he may be, is of utter importance to me.
Five years ago I started and have since accompanied an old age cultural club of the Irgun Mercas Europa.
The present project that I have initiated and am involved in, is inter-generational encounters between an ever growing group of old people living on their own and seeing to it that they get invited and involved with pupils in the local schools.
That is a story in itself and I will try to tell it some other time.

2 comments:

marwan said...

i Ester, I don't begrudge your life and descriptions of Jerusalem as a mother and a family that has grown up in what became Israel. What I urge you however, is to have the courage to look into the mirror and ask yourself how you built in houses and flats that have been previously occupied by Palestinian families and with which your Jewish army and militias frightened them into flight. You know it is just not that simple to come into another land and say "Oh I can take this house, I can live in the neigbourhood, and build it." The fact of the matter is when you came to Palestine in 1946 it was not empty but full of people. Through a deliberate wonting strategy your leaders sought to depopulate the land of its original inhabitants to make way for immigrants like you who came from all over the world. Again I urge you to read your history objectively from the not inconsiderable number of books that have been written on this period, including by Israeli writers, where your army and militias murdered, massacred, raped and bashed the skulls of innocent children so that another race, your race can come and occupy. In all honesty, as a decent grandmother with children and grandchildren can you live with that fact, your present house, and your land was property of others, and one day it was handed to you. How did you and the thousands of other immigrants came to build your dream all these years. It really is extraordinary how you enclosed your self and managed to build an aura of normality and lecture and write at the same time.

Michael Wildman said...

Ester -

You are one of Israel's great treasures!!!