“Busman’s Holiday” noun: A vacation or form of recreation that involves doing the same thing one does at work.
On Tuesday, we finished our work early in the echocardiography department. My colleague left the hospital for his second job at an HMO clinic. (Many hospital-based specialists in Israel supplement their income this way). I drove to the Old City to pick up a small painting that I had admired the day before. Rather than taking the usual route through the Armenian Quarter, I had a hankering to descend from the Jaffa Gate through the dark but colorful Arab souk. Concerned with my safety, I first purchased a goofy souvenir sun-hat embroidered with the word “Jerusalem”. (Tourists, being the lifeblood of the souk, are generally off-limits for jihadi attackers.)
Suitably protected, this pilgrim fended off the eager shopkeepers (“I make cheap price for cheap tourist” ), following the signs for Haram-al-Sharif, but taking a last minute detour to the gallery using Chabad Street. After completing my transaction ($200, no VAT tax) I carried my theft-worthy purchase via the safer route through Ararat Street and St. James Gate.
Traffic from the Old City toward home in Modiin was at a standstill, so an unplanned sightseeing stop was in order.
Mount Scopus towers over the northwest corner of Jerusalem, its modernist observation tower dominating the skyline and visible from many miles away. The Mount of Olives occupies the same ridge further southward. Mount Scopus had served as an encampment for the Roman legions before the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD and for the Crusader knights a thousand years later. For 75 years, it has been home to the sprawling campus of Hebrew University and the original Hadassah Hospital. I hadn’t been there in many years and was determined to find the spot with the best vista .
On the road up the mountain, traffic remained heavy as I passed near the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah . On this road, 79 hospital workers in a bus convoy were ambushed and massacred by the local villagers during the 1948 war.
My twin obsessions with finding the best view and studying the Israeli medical system pointed me to the old Hadassah Hospital. Determined to find my window, I boarded an elevator and headed toward the top floor. Riding up , I noticed on the directory that the top floor housed OB-GYN, nursery and neonatal ICU ; not a good area for a wandering unauthorized male visitor wearing a ridiculous hat. Next level down was orthopedics, perfect for leisurely sightseeing since none of the patients could give chase.
Working my way through the wards and hallways (think Jason Bourne in the Berlin consulate), I found a patient lounge that faced the city. Its occupants were an elderly bearded Jewish man and an Arab of similar age stroking worry beads. Unfortunately, the windows provided only a partial view. An unmarked door to the adjacent wing led to a warren of research laboratories with unattended bubbling flasks. The hospital visit was over.
Further up the mount, I entered the Hebrew University campus, redolent with fragrant eucalyptus and pine, which block both the hot Mediterranean sun and the view. Built in the early 20th century, some of its founding faculty of European refugees had unsuccessfully lobbied for German to be the official language of instruction. Following the 1948 cease fire, Mount Scopus was under Jordanian control until 1967, its empty buildings waiting for liberation. Alternate hospital and university campuses were built in the western part of the city.
Interesting feature of security in Israel: once one passes through the metal detectors, many buildings are wide-open for unchallenged exploration. I checked out the top floors of the Student Center, admin building, School of International Affairs, Frank Sinatra Center (“Chairman of the Board”?) but found no obliging windows. The top floor of the law school housed a second library exclusively for texts of Talmudic law and its interpretation, many written in the middle-ages, all indexed with a decimal system. Improbably, the university “Computer Farm” was atop the Bezalel School of Design building.
Winding through a maze of corridors, I reached the base of the Hebrew U. tower, the northernmost of three spread along the Mount of Olives ridge. (The middle tower is the Augusta Victoria Hospice, a Lutheran Church built by Kaiser Wilhelm in 1910 in honor of his wife, currently repurposed as a medical clinic. The southern bell tower is the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, built in the 1870’s) Climbing to the top of the tower would be sweeet. Alas, the ground floor lobby of this modernist structure appears abandoned and its entries boarded up, as if it were an undistinguished piece of derelict real estate.
“Of the ten measures of beauty that came down to the world, Jerusalem took nine”
–Talmud Kiddushin 49B
The City of Gold glows in the late afternoon sun. Thanks to the Fink family, a splendid panorama is beholden. 3,000 years after David triumphed over the Jebusites, the ancient city surrounded by 16th century Ottoman walls retains its magnetic messianic attraction. The eye is drawn to the golden dome covering the rock where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, Isaac (Book of Genesis). (Or, was it Ishmael, as the Moslem tradition has it?)
The skyline has been improved since last I stood here. A giant new white dome crowns the Hurva (“destroyed”) Synagogue, a polar counterpoint to The Dome of the Rock. First built by pre-Zionist Polish immigrants in the early 18th century, the synagogue was destroyed by Muslim neighbors in 1721, then rebuilt in 1864. For no strategic purpose, it was dynamited by the British-lead Trans-Jordan Arab Legion after the fall of the Old City’s Jewish Quarter in 1948. Following reunification in 1967, a large arch was built at the site, and was replaced by the new dome in 2010. Jerusalemites debated whether the restored building should be a museum or a functioning synagogue. A local Lithuanian sect prevailed. Fundamentalist Moslems were infuriated. Fatah and Hamas declared the reconstruction a “provocation” and claimed that Israel next planned to destroy the mosques on Haram-al-Sharif. Twice destroyed, twice rebuilt, The Hurva will not fall again.
I walked down to the Hadassah parking lot, paid the fee and drove back to Modiin, a glorious sunset illuminating the ride