Monday, September 28, 2009

First Night in Jerusalem

SEPTEMBER 24, 2009
Jerusalem, Israel

My first step out of the airport and into Israel was monumental. I had made it! Security would have to run to catch up with me now! I looked around to confirm that I had made it to the correct country. In a state of combined awe/relief to be out of the clutches of Israeli security, I stood outside of the airport’s high-tech automatic door and took a moment to absorb my surroundings. Never in my life have I seen so many Yamacas concentrated in one place! Location confirmed.

Red Jews, blue Jews, one Jew, two Jews!

Mediterranean Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, European Jews! It always blows my mind to see blondes speaking fluent Hebrew. I listened to the loud hum of colloquial Hebrew while attempting to decode the various signs (most of which are written in Hebrew, Arabic, and poor English transliteration) that lined the sparkling clean, shockingly not-trashed streets. Where to go to find the shuttle to Jerusalem?

Of course, this still being the Middle East, it wasn’t long before I was greeted by a barrage of Arab cab drivers who all courteously offered their services for “special price.” Fortunately I had learned enough from Cairo to know that “special price” is no different than “tourist price,” which usually translates to 3x “native price.”

Not wanting to be taken for a ride, I found a cozy little shuttle to Jerusalem. This shuttle wasn’t much different than a Sherut (the Hebrew name for a shared taxi), except it operated on a “leave-when-full” basis. This reminded me a bit of the public transportation system in Jordan, except Israeli Sherut drivers usually speak enough English to effectively communicate with overwhelmed American travelers. Sheruts, to their credit, also won’t drop you off on the side of isolated desert freeways (unless you ask).

As we were waiting to leave, I took a minute to examine my fellow passengers. Then I spotted him: a beautiful blonde Jewish boy, who I immediately presumed to be American. His golden locks swam out from underneath his Yamaca in a spirit of god-like perfection. I approached. “Hey! …I like your Yamaca.” He smiled shyly. “no English….Sorry. speak Hebrew?” I was shocked. No bakellum inkleezee?! We chatted casually in basic sentences for a few minutes, but I didn’t manage to find out more than that he is from Ashkelon (the Israeli city just north of Gaza that Hamas keeps shooting its missiles at) and is, in fact, Jewish.

Finally, after accommodating various drop-offs throughout Jerusalem, my shuttle pulled up next to the New Gate outside the Old City. The road to Jaffa Gate had been closed off for “security reasons.” Fortunately, a fellow passenger named Abe (short for Abraham) was kind enough to help drag my luggage to the Jaffa Gate Hostel. Abe, an orthodox Jew from Fresno, California, returns to Israel for Yom Kippur every year to lead tours for Jewish youth in the Old City. I credit him as the sole reason my toe is still intact after the strap on my forty-pound duffle bag full of terrorist literature broke.

We did eventually find Jaffa Gate Hostel. Energized by the celebrations outside, I felt inspired to walk around for a bit. I felt vaguely hungry and in remembering a really good hummus place in the area from my first visit to Jerusalem last September, I decided to check it out. Surprise! The venue is now occupied by a “Joseph’s Pizza.” I went inside.

“Hello can I help you?” “Yes, I’d like a slice of margarita please.” The man who I had ordered from walked up to my table. “How is your food?” “It’s good, thanks.” He introduced himself as Joseph. Though his family is originally from Cyprus, Joseph grew up in Jerusalem. He speaks fluent Arabic, Hebrew, English, and Greek.

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