Although Jerusalem is stunning to me, and I am enchanted by it enough to have moved here, there are times when I can see what they mean, the dissenters. Those faraway Tel Avivians who can’t understand what we see here. Jerusalem is one of the poorest cities in the country, they assert. Foreign workers, large Charedi families and old couples carrying carts bustle through the streets. Sidewalks are scattered with wrinkled faces and outstretched palms. Old stone buildings are plastered with signs warning women to dress modestly and – sometimes – with racist graffiti. Buses, which still sometimes evoke thoughts of bombs and terror, wind through side streets for hours and the train leads to nowhere. Parking is a nightmare – though on this issue Tel Avivians have no right to speak – and tickets are issued freely. It is hilly and old, they grumble, and the air is heavy with hummus, black coffee and the occasional stench of hatred.
Sometimes I argue with them, sometimes I smile. I know the city in a different way – not like the guests at her party, but like the ones who see her slip off her shoes when it’s over. I have sat in charming nooks and hiked on the hills and am enamored of the history and the air. None of that, however, would be enough to convince an outsider.
But once a year, if it’s a lucky one, those outsiders cast their eyes longingly in our direction. Although they might never admit it, they wish they were here.
For a few magical days, the city becomes a clean, white fairytale. Flakes of fluff whirl through the bright air and onto the tongues of gleeful children. Friends throw snowballs at each other. Older couples walk hand in hand and leave footprints in the freshness. Cafés are filled with huddled youths sipping hot drinks and yearning for the warmth of another body. “It’s like Europe,” people joke, but they mean it. They are somewhere else.
And everything that once was is forgotten. It is not a sheet thrown over the rubble, it is a new archeological layer, accumulated flake after sparkling flake. It is something new, pure enough to erase all traces of the old ground. It is a beginning.
Nobody thinks about tomorrow, or the next day, when the sun will have thawed the majesty, and the sky will be grey and the only thing sparkling will be the black-grey asphalt under tires too exhausted to budge. No one thinks about the slush and the crowded buses we will pile into to get through the wet, dirty streets.
We do not think about it because we don’t need to. Because these are our days. These are the days in which we awake to a bright stillness and see our city sheathed in white, almost bridal. These are the glittering days when Jerusalem is perfect. These are the days when what they say doesn’t matter, because we know we live in the right place.