Jerusalem Syndrome, by Nicholas Jagdeo

I am very much in love with this land, and in particular, this city of Jerusalem. Yes indeed – crazy, mad, passionate in love am I with this city. However, I have become well-aware of the seemingly high number of crazies who populate this magical city of mine.

Oh, don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining in the least bit. Living in a virtual insane asylum city isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. And besides, having a disproportionate number of mentally disturbed individuals living in the city (and, free to walk around in the sunshine without having to wear a straightjacket or any discernible mark of their insanity, mind you) just adds to the spice of Jerusalem and makes it even more alluring and more exciting, because one never knows what adventures can be waiting right around the corner. Indeed, the unexpected is always expected in this oddly-placed, mountain city. And I must admit, I do enjoy my daily encounters with crazy Jerusalem-ites thoroughly, thank you very much.

Wikipedia defines the Jerusalem syndrome as: “the name given to a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences, that are triggered by, or lead to, a visit to the city of Jerusalem. It is not endemic to one single religion or denomination, but has affected Jews and Christians of many different backgrounds. The best known, although not the most prevalent manifestation of the Jerusalem syndrome, is the phenomenon whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology, becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem. The psychosis is characterised by an intense religious theme and typically resolves to full recovery after a few weeks, or after being removed from the area.”

Funny, huh? To think that well-balanced, entirely sane individuals make the trek to Jerusalem and subsequently go mad is the most hilarious phenomenon which has ever happened to mankind (and it’s only hilarious because when they depart, they revert to being bastions of sanity). I have encountered many such individuals: from the Charedi man who comes to Nadin’s Bar every night without fail and sits by himself in a corner smoking nargila and eating popcorn, to the Palestinian shop-owner who yelled at me for thinking he was Jewish and calling him an Israeli; from the many Americans I’ve met who come across to do a year of study at Hebrew U, but ended up just never leaving and settling permanently here, to the sudden appearance of the Chassidim on Ben Yehuda dancing madly amongst themselves; from the black-hat Chabad man at the Kotel who talks to me for three straight about why I should wear tefillin and pray there every day in order to get everything I want, to the swarms of 10-year old Israeli children running around Yafo at midnight without any parental supervision; from the old lady on the bus who yells at us for talking too loudly, saying “Why are you talking? What do you have to talk about? Did you just visit Rachel’s tomb? Did you just daven at the Kotel? WHY ARE YOU TALKING?!”, to the Israelis who pass by a table of no Americans and yell out “Fucking Americans!”, just because we’re speaking English and they can’t tell the difference between the varied accents that exist in the Anglo world; from random Korean Christian-Zionist tourists who organize a singing session to sing Jewish songs in a Korean-tinged accent of Hebrew in public, to the taxi-drivers who spend ten minutes driving you to your destination, but put you out after they can’t convince you to not put on the monet… this place is funnnnnn-ky mad.

I love it!

Case in point: last night I went out with my friend, Sara, her sister, Aliesheva, her friend, Shira, and her aunt, Aunty Yael. As it was Aunty Yael’s last true night out and about in Jerusalem, we decided to make a big night out of it (which isn’t saying much, since everywhere on the planet is mostly dead on a Monday night). We went to dinner, then for coffee and were about to go to a bar, but we had to wait on Aliesheva to get on the bus to head back to Ramat Beit Shemesh. Afterall, Aliesheva is only sixteen, and it wouldn’t be the most responsible thing to traipse her into a bar with us.

So there we were – minding our own business at the bus-stop when a guy, most obviously under the influence of this Jerusalem syndrome, comes up to us asking for money. Normally, being the mitzvah boy that I am, I would always give something to people asking for money – but this guy was the type who’d probably use the money for drugs or something, so I chose not to. I didn’t know exactly what he was saying in the Ivrit-talk, so I just shook my head and said “lo” but he just stood in front of my shaking his cup over and over again. It was the most awkward thing you can possibly imagine. Finally, the guy gave up, looked at me with a look of loathing and moved on to Sara and did the same thing to her, then to her aunt, then to Shira. It’s not that he was begging and possibly on drugs that was strange – it was that he was so persistent! He’d stand in front of each us for at least 3 minutes and keep insisting and mumbling something which sounded suspciously like “Hara!” when we wouldn’t give in to his demands. Anyway, so Mr. Possibly-on-drugs Guy, after realizing none of us would entertain him fiscally, moved on to the other people at the bus-stop. Since all my attention had been diverted on focusing on Mr. Possibly-on-drugs Guy, I hadn’t been paying attention to my neighbours at the bus-stop. And there was quite a Character there, I must tell you – a Character whom Mr. P-o-d guy made the unwise decision to move on to and harass for spare change.

Now spare me a moment to describe this Character to you in as vivid terms as I can, because he wasn’t just a character. Oh no sir-ee. He was a Character… of the most colorful kind. He was dressed in suede electric-blue pants, a pink shirt, a purple bandana tied around his neck, a long blue necktie and to top it all off nicely… a pink cowboy hat perched comfortably on his 60 year old head. (It does sound terribly odd, but it suited this Character and the role he was about to play).

Now, the Character had no time for Mr. P-o-d’s begging. In fact, he was tremendously annoyed by it. He quickly got up, and yelling at P-o-d in Ivrit-talk, he chased him down Yafo.

Naturally, we all started laughing – and me, uncontrollably. It was the most hilarious thing I’d ever seen in all of my nearly a year in this city, and I can tell you, I’ve seen a whole lot of hilarious things here.

But that’s not the end of the story.

So after chasing Mr. P-o-d away, the Character comes back and seeing us laughing decides to entertain us. Standing with his feet apart, he does what can only be described as hip-replacement thrusting in the middle of Yafo, with Arab taxi drivers honking their horns at him and yelling at him in either Arabic or Hebrew – I’m not quite sure. Then… (brace yourself)… then, this Character had the audacity to start pointing at us and laughing his head off!

Only in Jerusalem…

It was actually disturbing in a way, because I started to actually wonder if reality had gone topsy-turvy for a minute there and I wondered if we were somehow the crazy ones and the Character had become the sane one. But nonetheless, it was the funniest thing you can imagine, and when Aliesheva’s bus came right then and she ran off to board it and we started walking away, the Character decided to follow us. As we were still in throes of uncontrollable laughter, the sight of him dancing and following us, while smiling and yelling in Hebrew, simply exacerbated the laughing situation and made it even funnier. We ran across the street and stopped to survey the Character. He kept right on dancing, and with a nod of his head, he ducked into Cafe Hillel and perhaps decided to entertain the patrons inside there.

And that isn’t even the end of the night, mind you… but I don’t think I’ll get into that, because I’m realizing, as I type this, that perhaps the reason I’m fitting in so well and loving everything so much is probably because… hmm. Maybe I have a touch of Jerusalem syndrome myself?

The pot really does love to call the kettle black, doesn’t it?

My only hope is – if I ever disintegrate into becoming a Character in Jerusalem (as a direct result of having come totally under the influence of the Jerusalem Syndrome), may I never have to leave and re-gain my sanity.

Being a crazy Jerusalem-ite seems much too exciting to have to revert to a life of monotonous normalcy back in the west.

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