“Why are you going to Jerusalem? People like you go to Tel Aviv!” Terence and I heard this approximately every day once we started telling people about our sabbatical plans. We heard that young, liberal people are fleeing Jerusalem in droves. Jerusalem is staid, conservative, conflicted, oppressive, the argument went. People with open minds and free spirits belong in Tel Aviv. We heard this so much we started to worry. We loved the history and culture of Jerusalem, but would we have any fun? Was the city so politically and residentially polarized that we would be caught in the middle? Terence visited both cities on his sabbatical fact-finding trip in March. He came away feeling much more compelled by Jerusalem and cautiously optimistic that we could make it work. When he won the Fulbright and placed with a professor at Hebrew University, that sealed the deal. Jerusalem it was. But I remained curious about Tel Aviv.
Yesterday I had the chance to visit for the first time. We needed to get visas for next week’s trip to Jordan, and then in the evening we were invited to an event at the Ambassador’s residence (thank you, Fulbright!). So I made a day of it — beach, walking, window shopping, strolling Carmel Market. And wow, it is truly amazing how different Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are. I saw lots of nose rings but hardly any tzitzit. The markets here (hip arts and crafts, gorgeous fruits and vegetables including organics) are amazing. I walked to the beach and almost cracked up, it was so exactly as advertised. Sunbathers drinking beer and bronzed 20-something guys playing matkot.
Don’t get me wrong — I enjoyed that view and my afternoon on the beach. But the whole scene didn’t feel like “us.” I guess fundamentally Terence and I are serious people. We don’t recreate much. We like living surrounded by layers of history (even though much of it is grim). And Jerusalem’s diversity is complicated and confrontational, yes, but interesting. Our taxi driver on the way home from the station shook his head and said sadly: “Jerusalem goes to bed early. The party is in Tel Aviv.” I guess that’s why we like it here. As our bus pulled up the hills into Jerusalem, I even had the faintest feeling of coming home.
p.s. The party at the Ambassador’s residence was great fun. Gorgeous spot, interesting company and delicious desserts! The theme was “peace building through the arts” and featured a concert by Saffron Caravan (an international band with lots of cool instruments; oud, santour, etc.) and Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul and Mary). I loved the world music but it was a little bizarre to be led in a singalong of “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.” Whose land is this land? Isn’t that what the U.N. will be deliberating on Friday?