I have lived and taught in Jerusalem for over 25 years, and I am still in awe of this city and its people. I think about Yehuda Amichai’s poem, “Tourists”, in which he points out that visitors to Israel focus too much of their attention on the history and sites of our beautiful country, and not enough on the people living here.
We stress that beauty and personality to our students who attend Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY), an annual four-month program in Jerusalem for North American high school students. Each year, we do a project with our students (i.e. Happy Jerusalem), something that inspires them and teaches them about the city that becomes their temporary home for one semester.
This year, inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (HONY) project, they interviewed and photographed dozens of Jerusalemites, with the one simple goal of hearing and learning their stories. The results were meaningful and moving, and this post is part of a series that will document their incredible work. Here is a documentary video with a behind-the-scenes view of the experience.
I want to thank all the students involved in making this project, as well as Jonathan Madoff, TRY’s director of general studies, whose inspiration, dedication and tireless attention to detail made Humans of Yerushalayim (HOY) a reality.
I hope you enjoy this first installment.
“Is Hebrew your native language?”
“No, Russian is. When I started to learn Hebrew, I had a terrible Russian accent, and when I would say Hebrew names people would be confused. I also would forget words in Hebrew, so I would just make them up.”
“Can we ask you a few questions?”
“Yes, but you will not like what I have to say.”
“What does election day mean to you?”
“Do you want the nice answer, or do you want the real me?”
“The real, truthful you would be great.”
“I am a Palestinian-Christian. I was born here, in Jerusalem, in 1967- I was born in Jordan. And today, election day, it means nothing to me. I am not allowed to vote. Palestinians do not have the right to go to the army or to vote. A Russian who arrived in this country yesterday has more rights than me, someone who has lived here all his life…If these walls of the Old City could speak, it would speak of peace, kindness. The walls would say, ‘we are all human beings.’ But now it has all changed?”
“Why has it changed?”
“Because of the occupation; it has brought violence and arrogance to this land. They say it is a democratic country, but underneath, it is not. As a regular person, I am disappointed with the Israeli government. We are all sons of man. We need some respect.”
“Do you have any regrets?”
“I never regret anything, in whatever I do in my life. Every day we learn, positive or negative- it is always a plus for you.”
(From Election Day 2015)
“It’s my 60th birthday, as well as my son’s birthday, he is coming to join us soon.”
“You said that you came from outside of the city. Why did you decide to celebrate your birthday in Jerusalem?”
“The people here are special.”
Ben the Bouncer
“I used to be a bouncer.”
“What’s your scariest experience?”
“My friend was also a bouncer for the club next door. Earlier that night he didn’t let three highly intoxicated men into the club, and when he left that night, they followed him to his car. I saw and took another bouncer and we ran to go help him. I’ll spare you the scary details, but it was bad.”
“How long have you been together?”
Her: “Since before your grandparents met.”
Him: “I’m from Warsaw, she’s from Israel.”
“We’re on our way to vote.”
“Are you nervous?”
“Yes, about the outcome.”
(From Election Day 2015)
“Do you have any stories from your army service this year?”
“No, this is the army, not TV.”
“Where were you born?”
“What brought you here?”
“It was a better life, we wanted a better life for the children.”
“If you could say one thing about Israel to someone, what would it be?”
“Come to Israel. It is a very special country.”