Loranne Laird

Blues and Bluegrass in Jerusalem Bar, and Semi Ethical Thieves

The eclectic mix of humanity on the streets of Jerusalem has a uniquely vibrating positive energy I don’t believe you can find anywhere else in the world.

From a kippa wearing homeless guy parked on his cardboard near the socially scornful dummies in a storefront, to non stop Asian/ African/ random international yeshiva bochurim, women dressed from hijabs, a burka, to miniskirts, to full on frummie, bare arms, legs, heads, same, wrapped every way and sideways; Russians, Arabs, bubbies, zaides, South Africans, South Americans, Indians, Brits, children implausibly young to be running around on the streets; I don’t even know what all I saw in the streets last night, but it was humming, throbbing and pulsating with life.

Buskers. An elderly man with a clarinet. A wacky haired kid with a guitar. A man holding his instrument silently, in front of his (inevitable) nigel vasser coin collector, looking pensive, a guy randomly blowing a shofar in Yaffa Center.

And of course you must add in a mess and confusion, full blown construction with tractors long after dark, and the obligatory 3 men hip deep in a concrete hole, while a 4th man looks on. Some things are the same the world over, I guess.

Familiar paths and corners blocked off and Mooveit is completely clueless; feral cats of various colors, looking alternately pleadingly or menacingly at you, eating furtively, sociopathically, with murdered rat or something between their paws; Add some colored umbrellas, because Balagan is our middle name.

I love Jerusalem. Even the thieves are semi ethical. Someone stole around 2000.00 worth of my jewelry making supplies. Things that are irreplaceable for me because of prohibitive costs in Israel vs place of purchase. Funny thing was, they broke into my suitcase which had a backpack literally stuffed with supplies I hand carried in. They only took half and left me half. They took the better half, of course, (and my pink silk nightgown), but still, what kind of thief leaves you half? Can’t be an ethical thief, the idea is oxymoronic; had to be a Semi Ethical Thief.
Hey, Semi Ethical Thief, if you read this, that was my parnossa you stole: Give it back.

Too ironic; I’m sort of angrily snortling through my coffee here.
I saw in an article that an Arab had found 10,000.00 in a knapsack on the beach and returned it to its Jewish owner. Completely unexpected random kindnesses occur here. No one is who you think they are: each individual face hides a humanity and story that begs to be told. I want to sit with them all and hear it, feel it, document, and record each remarkably vivid human life.

I was lost on the bus this week. My internet always drops out in the Charedi neighborhoods, so, while I am a dedicated Moovit user, I randomly am stuck cursing my phone in places like Bar Illan.

I was trying to get to Har Choztvim, but wound up in Gvat Sha’ul. A random woman brought me to her home, maxed out her AC in compassion for a fellow menopausal hot flasher, while she and her surprisingly sweet teenage daughters frantically searched through phone books to find where I really meant to go. After communicating in incomprehensibly rapid Hebrew with my destination, they sent me off clutching hand written instructions to the bus driver. Who only spoke in grunts, which was fine because I understood him perfectly.

Where I come from people on the bus are likely to be homicidal maniacs and are the scariest dregs of society: I rarely rode the bus; maybe five times in my entire life. I certainly would never feel safe to go home with someone I had met on one! Here, the bus is not only necessary, it is mandatory to the experience. It is full of hidden tzaddikim, randomly fascinating punim and underbreath tehillim sayers from surprisingly varied walks of life.

And then, the highlight of my week, the real thing: Blues. Lazer Lloyd, Blues Master was playing at Mike’s Place, which is what brought me to town so late last night. What kind of bar can draw a 90 percent kippa wearing, head bobbing Blues enthusiast Jew crowd from a truly international mix and serves absolutely the best poutine I have ever had, bar none? A Jerusalem bar, That’s what.

Hilarious, the all American Ohio born, kosher keeping waitress with a drawl, raggy denims, and the perfect nonchalance, and the Russian yeshiva boy waiter who used to attend school with my son back in St Louis, an aging big bellied Rabbi with his frumly but modernly dressed wife, a lost girl from LA, bundled up like Sherlock Holmes on a winter day, several hippie types,( that would include Lazer Lloyd, the artist,) a few bochurim furtively ordering probably their first beers, the hip, kippa wearing 30s something young couples, about 4 sets at one table, a young bearded man built like a linebacker who kept eyeing me and smiling, (but I know he wasn’t flirting because I’m certainly old enough to be his bubbe),and my gloriously red headed daughter who frantically tried to eat all the poutine before I could, and dreamily spoke of her new life, plans and adventures, while singing along with the music in a frightening display of intensity (for trivially worded lyrics), all these and more converge into an audience fully engaged in simultaneous toe tapping and slow beer drinking nostalgia.

Inconsistent cliches? I don’t know how to describe the perfection of that crowd.

Some random woman busker, dressed quite modestly, (I regret not asking her name, but she was seriously eating like she hadn’t had a meal in a week when I passed by),said she could play the blues, so Lazer let her on stage with her harmonica and a mike. Whoa! That woman had soul! Between her and Lazer they had the crowd foot stomping.

We were treated to some genuine bluegrass~~ as in, Kentucky hillbilly, corn cob pipe smoking on the front porch, barefoot, swigging out of a homemade clay moonshine jug, USA homegrown. And I got it in Jerusalem. I feel like I just got 70% off my Rosh Hashanah outfit at Macy’s.

That’s entertainment, folks. That’s good memories, right there. That’s beauty of character, no matter how imperfect. That’s the whole of humanity in a nutshell. It all is converging on this time and place we know as this moment, Now, Jerusalem. And as we all know, wherever we come from, and for whatever personal reasons, we all wind up in Jerusalem.

L Shana Tova!

For accompanying photography to my blogs, and videos, please see my blogpage at Bubbe’s Travels on facebook.


About the Author
Mother of 4, grandmother of 10, retired Registered Nurse, using my phone to photograph and observe Israel as a new Oleh. A lifetime of reading biographies of the founding fathers, history of Israel, history in general, to making aliyah as a middle aged wanderer, my hobbies of people watching, exploring, photography, reading and writing are put to good use when it comes to blogging. Originally from Seattle, I grew up in the Rocky mountains, from Wyoming to Alberta, Canada. Cowgirls fit into Israel well. From a very assimilated family, I became Baal Tshuva in 1999, and have lived amonst the Charedim ever since, although I consider myself just plain Orthodox. With a big sun hat, because I am allergic to the sun, I wander around with my phone as my camera and try to advocate for the complexity that is Israel, to my very large group on non Jewish internet friends and assimilated Jewish friends from around the world.