Jerusalem Through My Lens

TOI Article

“WHAT you’re going to be in the middle of a war!” “Are you sure it’s safe there? Be careful of ISIS!” “Aren’t terrorists everywhere?” all reactions I heard when I told people of my plans to move to Israel.

This is the Israel they see through the lens of CNN and almost every other news source, whether to the right or to the left. This is not my Israel. My Israel is what I experienced in Jerusalem this Shabbat with my Abba.

We woke up fairly late, had a traditional Israeli breakfast of challah and hummus, bundled up (who knew it could be this cold in Israel!) and set out on our Shabbat expedition. We walked down the streets of the German Colony, passing women looking warm in long skirts and tights, men wearing suits on their way to Shabbat lunch.

We walked down the old train track, bustling with restaurants and children. A boy chases a girl on a bike, the girl falls and starts laughing hysterically. This is not the Israel that one sees on BBC. This is my Israel.

We continue our walk and past Montefiore’s Wind Mill. We stop to look at the view overlooking the Old City and West Bank. With the calmness in the air one would never suspect that this is the place where Fox News gets a majority of its headlines from.

As we continued on our hike we happened upon a bench tucked away behind three walls and a roof of purple fragrant flowers. There was an opening where the benches faced the old city walls. We sat for a while and meditated. My mind went back in history, picturing those from all over Judea coming up with sacrifices, giddy with excitement and awe of what they were about to partake in. I thought of the glory of the Roman Empire, the thrill of seeing a gladiator fight in Jerusalem. I painted the Turks building the Old City wall, the magnificence that they thought no one would be able to penetrate. All the history that is within this city and country, this is my Israel. This is my Jerusalem.

We stood up from this bench and returned to our voyage. We walked through the gates of the Old City, ventured down the antique streets and finally made it to our first intended destination: the Kotel. Like any good Jew I spent a few minutes close to the wall. The emptiness of the plaza was a shock, I have never been there when I was not pushed from all angles by fellow worshippers.

I said a few prayers and meditated on my deepest thoughts and wishes. As I walked away and waited for Abba to come back from the men’s section I began to people watch. The tourists who were yelled at for being on their phone, the woman who was sitting down with her eyes closed in clear concentration and desire, the little boy chasing the cat in glee. This is my Jerusalem.

I met up with Abba, and despite the terror that has happened recently, we felt a sense of calmness and decided to walk through the Arab quarter, like we have every prior time I have been in Jerusalem. This was one of the first times that I understood the tension that had happened and was naturally quite nervous.

We had a destination in mind but the curving streets of the Old City make it easy to get lost. When Abba finally admitted he was not sure where we are, my heart started to beat fast. Despite my protest my Abba decided to ask an Arab vender. He smiled and started talking to us. Asked us where we are from, gave us directions to where we needed to go, and told us to come back to visit. This is my Jerusalem. Not the political hatred between Jews and Arabs. The day to day interpersonal interactions.

This is my Jerusalem. This is my Israel. And I wish this is how everyone saw it.

About the Author
Originally from Washington, D.C., Penina Graubart is the New Media Associate for Times of Israel. She also attends IDC Herzliya, studying at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications