Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem’

Journey to the Old City and Back

February 13, 2016

No matter what the political situation, there’s only so long we can go without humous (hummus) from Lina’s and knafeh from al-Jafar. Lured by a benevolent sky, today my husband and I decided on an excursion to the Old City. It’s a drive of about ten minutes on a Saturday when most Israelis are out of town, trampling each other in their search for wildflowers. We even found a decent parking space.

As we drove up to the parking lot, we already saw signs of revival after this miserable winter. Bus after bus came our way, after dropping off pilgrims and tourists eager to see the holy sites. At Zion Gate we stopped to chat with some Assyrian Christian shopkeepers we know. They sounded a tad more hopeful than on our previous visit, about a month ago.

And indeed, the atmosphere everywhere seemed more relaxed, but perhaps what we noticed was simply resignation to the roller-coaster existence in the Middle East. We did see tourists, and at the eighth station of the cross we saw a woman carrying a heavy wooden cross that was taller than herself, with a group of Polish pilgrims.

At our favorite humous restaurant, Lina’s, where in normal times there is a line of Israelis out the door at lunchtime on Saturday, we were among just a few diners. A pity, because the food is excellent and inexpensive. The humous is smooth and creamy, and the falafel, thanks to the rich addition of chopped parsley, is flavorful and grease-free. Once when we were there for lunch I asked who Lina is. There is no Lina, I was told. Previously, the restaurant was call Linda and was owned by two partners. When the partners split up, one of them reopened the restaurant but had to change the name. He simply dropped the “d.” (And no, they didn’t tell me who the original Linda was.)

The last time we were in the Old City I was a little nervous about going near Damascus Gate, where some attacks had taken place, so we skipped dessert at al-Jafar (“the eagle”). This time, however, we couldn’t resist the call of the knafeh, a pastry with a cheese base and a shredded semolina topping, all of it steeped in syrup. We were already full, so we split a portion–a plateful so big you have to be hungry to eat a whole one.I overheard the Muslim woman sitting next to me say “Mish ader” (I just can’t) to her husband as she pushed the uneaten portion of her knafeh toward him.

On the way back through the covered bazaar we bought a jar of al-Jemal tehina (tahini), the best you can get here, and freshly ground coffee at Sandouka, where the proprietor recognized my husband and greeted him with a big smile.

At least for one sunny day in February, it felt good to be in Jerusalem.

Text copyright 2016 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.



The opera is coming to Jerusalem!

February 21, 2011

The Tower of David Museum and citadel is one of the historic sites where concerts will be performed during the opera festival in Jerusalem.

Opera lovers now have a good reason to visit Jerusalem. Of all the historical sites where opera festivals take place in summer, Jerusalem may be the best, with its backdrop of the Old City walls and its many dramatic venues. This summer opera is coming to Jerusalem for a five-day festival, June 2 to 6, that will include the Israeli premiere of Verdi’s Jerusalem.

The orchestra of the Arena di Verona, Italy’s leading summer opera festival, will open the festival under the baton of Italian conductor Giuliano Carella with a gala opera concert—Verdi, Puccini, and Rossini arias and duets—in the open-air Sultan’s Pool.

A semi-staged production of Verdi’s Jerusalem with special lighting effects will be performed at the same site on the last night of the festival. David Stern, music director of the Tel Aviv-based New Israel Opera, is to lead the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the New Israel Opera chorus, and international and Israeli soloists.

The opera, in four acts, is set during the crusades to the Holy Land. It opens in France, moves to the city of Ramle, and finally reaches Jerusalem where the Crusaders are about to capture the city. Of course, there is a ridiculously complicated love story, with suspenseful twists, mistaken identities, and murder plots, as in other Verdi operas.

Between these two major musical events, 30 chamber and vocal concerts will take place in dramatic historic settings, including the Tower of David Museum, the Dormition Abbey, and the Sisters of Zion Church in Ein Kerem.
And while the opera festival takes place in Jerusalem, Verdi’s Aïda and his Requiem will be performed at the foot of Masada, near the Dead Sea.

It will be a summer to remember.

Text and photo copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photos may be used without written permission of the author.

(Kosher) Sex and the (Holy) City

November 20, 2010

Next door to a florist and a chocolatier on trendy Emek Refaim Street is this shop selling 'special gifts for lovers.'

Candlesticks and honey dust, massage creams and sexy undies, and even super-kosher spreadable, lickable Belgian chocolate fill the shop.

Under the wedding canopy, a [Jewish] groom promises his bride that he will provide her with comfortable standards of food, shelter, and sexual gratification.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Heavenly Sex

Until 2004, there was nowhere in Israel a woman could buy edible fruit-flavored undies. Nor could couples buy spreadable, lickable Belgian chocolate certified kosher under the strictest rabbinical supervision.

It was then that Idit Ben-Haim opened Lo.Ve.La on Jerusalem’s trendy Emek Refaim Street.

“I was looking for something that didn’t yet exist in Israel,” said Ben-Haim, 39. “Either there was nothing or there were sex shops. So I decided to open a love shop, with a playful touch of sex.”

The shop’s name written in English letters indeed hints at love; in Hebrew, the name means “for him and for her.”

This straight-oriented store, owned and staffed exclusively by women, focuses on romance and intimacy. Candles of all types, even candles made of massage butter, and candlesticks that burn colored paraffin (and that can double as Sabbath lights); Victoria’s Secret creams and lotions; his-and-her ceramic cats and birds; and lacy nighties are among the items that fill the shelves.

But there are also erotic card games for couples, undergarments for role playing, “honey dust” to be applied with a feather and licked off, and a pair of dice that glow in the dark, one of which shows what to do and the other of which indicates which room of the house to do it in.

Ben-Haim’s clientele is very varied. Only a few clients are ultra-Orthodox, but many are Orthodox.

“A couple’s intimate relations are sanctified in the Orthodox community,” Ben-Haim explained. “Some women come here before going to the mikveh [ritual bath] and buy underwear and massage products.”A popular wedding gift among her Orthodox clients is a basket filled with the shop’s products, and a similar basket is also a favorite gift for brides going to the mikveh for the first time.

A tiny back room separated by a curtain from the main part of the shop has a variety of sex toys and a small selection of erotic films. Not everyone is allowed to enter.

“We advise couples who want to buy the sex products,” Ben-Haim said. “This is not a sex shop.”

Lo.Ve.La, which bills itself as selling “special gifts for lovers,” also offers two types of workshops for women, one in which new products are explained, and another, often on the occasion of a birthday, that starts off with games and ends with information about products. Now Ben-Haim plans to expand her business through franchises around the country, using the Emek Refaim shop as the model.

Lo.Ve.La is set back slightly from the street, next door to a florist and a chocolatier. The recessed entrance was not what Ben-Haim wanted originally, but now she sees it as an advantage, because it helps create an atmosphere of intimacy, she said, “and you don’t have to sneak in through a dark, sleazy stairwell.”

Lo.Ve.La, 52 Emek Refaim; 02-563-8090. Open Sunday through Thursday 10 to 9, Friday 10 to 2:30.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photos may be used without written permission of the author.

A neighborhood by any other name: A sign of who’s in power

November 9, 2010

Ask anyone in Jerusalem for directions to Komemiyut and all you'll get are blank stares.

Tel Aviv has decided to consign some old neighborhood names to oblivion and replace them with new ones, according to the daily Ha’aretz. Among the first eight names to be changed is that of Sarona, a settlement established in the 19th century by Templers, Christian visionaries from Germany. Another is of Abu Kabir, which was named for an Egyptian village from which many of its original residents came. The city plans massive development in some of these neighborhoods, and perhaps the old names are not posh enough for their new inhabitants.

Changing names is a trick used worldwide to show who’s in power and whose collective memory will be preserved. About 15 years ago I stumbled around Tashkent, Uzbekistan, unable to find my way with a map that still showed the streets named for Soviet heroes. One of the first things the Uzbeks had done after the fall of the Soviet Union was to change the street names (and replace the statues of Lenin with statues of the 14th century conqueror Timur, known to the West as Tamerlane).

But name changes don’t always stick. Abu Kabir has already undergone one name change to Givat Herzl (Herzl’s hill), a name no one seems to use. And if Jerusalem is any indication, the new names in Tel Aviv will catch on slowly, if at all.

I live in Katamon, which Jerusalem’s naming committee decided decades ago to call Gonen, a name derived from the Hebrew root meaning “to defend.” The original Greek name, which refers to the monastery nearby, clearly did not fit the Israeli image the city fathers wanted for this neighborhood that was the scene of fierce fighting in the War of Independence and whose many Greek Orthodox inhabitants fled to escape the conflict. Most of the streets are named for units and corps that fought in that war.

But ask anyone you meet what this neighborhood is called, and the answer will be Katamon. The same is true for the next neighborhood to the east, Talbiya, which had wealthy Arab residents before 1948. The city would like it to be called Komemiyut, which means “sovereignty.” But no one, absolutely no one, calls it anything but Talbiya (pronounced Tal-BEE-yeh).

And the same goes for a neighborhood to the south of Katamon, named Bak’a (an Arab name that means “valley”). The city would like it to be called Ge’ulim, from the Hebrew word meaning “emancipation,” but everyone still calls it Bak’a.

Even the large directional signs the city has posted include the “old” names along with the “new,” because the new names by themselves would be meaningless.

Oddly, the city has not tried to get rid of the names of the two neighborhoods closest to mine, the German Colony and the Greek Colony, the first named for its 19th century Templer settlers and the second for its former Greek inhabitants (and where you can still learn Greek folk dances at the Greek community center).

So, at least in Jerusalem, a few attempts to eradicate the past and alter the collective memory have failed utterly.

Text and photo copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photo may be used without written permission of the author.