That white stuff in the air


For a few minutes we could pretend it was Boston in Jerusalem.

The kids couldn’t sleep. Adults stock-piled food and heating fuel as if preparing for World War III. While many dozens of Syrians were being massacred daily some 235 miles to the north, the only talk in Jerusalem was of snow.

“Will it snow?” “Will it stay on the ground?” “Will the buses run?” “Will the schools close?” (It takes no more than a couple of centimeters to bring the city to a halt.)

I’ll relieve your suspense. There was a little snow Friday morning, as is obvious from the photo above, and parents were asked to pick up their kids from school, but five minutes after the photo was taken, the sun came out and melted it all. So for a short while we had the thrill of a blizzard, something that happens here only once in a few years, but there was nothing, at least on our side of town, to ski or sled on. (It did, however, rain in biblical profusion for four days; whoever predicted a dry winter must be chewing on felt or straw right now.)

In my mind, snow and Jerusalem are connected because of a photo that turned me on to a bizarre aspect of local graffiti. The winter of 1921 was particularly brutal, and two British soldiers posed knee-deep in snow for a photograph at the Western Wall. Clearly visible in the picture, on a massive stone just above their heads, are Hebrew names painted in square black letters.

You might have thought that reverence for the Wall would have kept Jews from defacing it. But although the Wall was still free of graffiti state in an 1880 photo, half a dozen black-and-white photos taken between 1900 and 1935 (part of the collection of the Elia Photo Shop in the Old City’s Christian Quarter) show name after name painted on the stones, always in square letters. By 1900, Joseph Moshe Aminoff had left his mark; Shalom Joseph Cohen Arazi had left his by 1910. By 1935, new names had covered the faded older ones.

In 2006, a new book titled Holy Land Scenes 1906, showed the names in color, in natural pigments of red and dark brown. According to author Yoel Amir, those names were like the notes stuffed into crevices in the Wall today; that is, pilgrims were among the earliest graffiti writers in modern Jerusalem

How many Ethiopians do you know with the surname Nevada? Our Government Press Office, which sends me regular updates on matters of potential interest (mostly photo ops of interest only to the politicians being photographed and their mothers), notified me this week that our Foreign Affairs Ministry had appointed an Ethiopian woman as ambassador to Ethiopia. Her name? Belaynesh Nevada.

And my name is Esther Arkansas.
Her real name, as shown in the accompanying press release from the ministry: Belaynesh Zevadia.

Sighted at a bus stop in Katamon:
A lost-and-found notice with the words “Boomerang found.” I hope the owner is not in Australia waiting for it to return.

Text and photograph copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photograph may be used without written permission of the author.


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