What it’s really like in Jerusalem these days

With the precarious and terrorizing situation in Jerusalem currently what it is, if you aren’t here, you can’t really know what it’s like. And so, while sitting on my balcony at 2AM, listening to the stillness of a seemingly peaceful city, with sporadic sounds of people still out having fun, I’m going to tell you what it’s like in Jerusalem these days from the perspective of one Jerusalemite – yours truly.

Too much news

I’m  tapped into the news almost constantly. I look at it before I go to sleep and when I wake up. I try not to but end up doing it anyway. When I forget about it for a while, I feel a mix of relief and panic, happy for the break but wondering what might have happened since the last time I checked.

Listening for sirens

I am tuned into the sound of sirens. I can tell the difference between a regular emergency and a terrorist attack. I’ve heard the response of emergency vehicles to at least one attack. The cacaphony of sirens is unmistakable and it’s very traumatizing sitting in your house imagining what is going on right then, really very close by.

How safe I feel

How vulnerable or safe I feel fluctuates on a regular basis. Every time I am indoors, it is nerve wracking going out again. And the more I am aware of the news, the more I fear for my own safety.

Still safer than Canada?

Tonight I walked through the park to an event. Yes, tonight I walked through a park by myself. I wondered if it was a bad idea but found a couple of girls sitting eating sushi by the playground (when they turned around to make sure I wasn’t a terrorist, I told them not to worry, I don’t have a knife – we all laughed), others were exercising and still others were sitting quietly on the grass with their arms around each other. I thought, even at the best of times in Toronto I’d never walk through a park by myself at night.

Giving moral support to each other

Many people are creating initiatives to give moral support to each other. One day a family walked around the Mamilla Mall giving out notes with a candy attached. The other day a few women stood in the German Colony and handed out flowers and cookies to put a smile on people’s faces:

Women hand out flowers and cookies to cheer people up (photo by Marian Morgan)
Women hand out flowers and cookies to cheer people up (photo by Marian Morgan)

And tonight I went to an amazing music and art event created especially to give people strength:

art and music event
Art and music event at the Open Studio

Appreciating each other that much more

I keep thinking how lucky I am to be with my family and my friends. I keep thinking, “Thank you. Thank you.” And I wonder superstitiously if the more I say thank you, the more we’re protected.

Facebook for laughs and cries

My Facebook newsfeed is to a large extent about the situation and it has me infuriated one moment and laughing out loud the next.

Still alive and well

A colleague created a Facebook event in order to encourage people to post photos of themselves out, continuing on with their lives. The hashtag: #enjoyjerusalem in English and “now in Jerusalem” in Hebrew (#עכשיובירושלים). People were doing it and it was heartwarming and fun. Until the two terrible attacks in Jerusalem the following day when the businesses emptied out and people felt the need to stay home.

Empty restaurants

Seeing empty restaurants, cafes and bars open, all the tables out and welcoming, with almost no one, or literally no one, sitting in them, is absolutely heartbreaking. Jerusalem’s businesses are hit repeatedly over the years by the security situation here and it’s hard to imagine how they get through it.

empty streets
Hillel Street, a central street in downtown Jerusalem, empty on Tuesday night

Supporting businesses

A friend decided to organize a trip to the Mahane Yehuda outdoor market for drinks in order to support the businesses there. Afterwards he estimated that we spent around 800 NIS that night which was probably a large percentage of the transactions made in the normally bustling shuk bars.

empty shuk
Tahrir, normally hopping Middle Eastern style bar in the Mahane Yehuda Shuk sits empty besides for us.

A sad day in the city

The only reason I could get myself to go to the shuk that night was because I was already out. That day I’d already heard the sirens of the attack in Armon Hanatziv, I’d stood at a bus stop with other people, wishing we weren’t such a good target, traveled on the bus looking carefully around at the other passengers who were looking carefully at me, walked through a quiet downtown Jerusalem and spent the afternoon in Tmol Shilshom, a Jerusalem restaurant, where barely anyone showed up besides a handful of European tourists who, I figured, don’t have to worry about being targeted because they don’t look Jewish. I then walked around town, taking pictures of the empty restaurants and then walked to the shuk. I know that if I’d just been at home, I’d have been too afraid to venture out in the dark of the night.

Looking Jewish

I think about how looking Jewish is a liability right now and it’s so hard to see Jews, yet again, being targeted especially if they look Jewish, aka, ultra Orthodox. I jokingly write on Facebook that I want to walk around with a Canadian flag draped around my shoulders, the way I saw a tourist doing with a British flag, and a Facebook friend points out the irony and tragedy that I’m even toying with the idea of hiding my Jewish identity in the Jewish state.

Shabbat conversations about self defense

Friday night, after dinner at my friends’ home, they demonstrate stabbing each other with a fake plastic knife in a myriad of different ways and show me self defense moves for each scenario. We talk about whether or not we’d have the presence of mind to actually do something productive in such a terrifying situation and my friend, an aikido expert, explains that fear is our worst enemy because it doesn’t let us do what we’re capable of doing. He says that running away is dangerous for you because the terrorist could just run after you and stab you some more and it’s dangerous for those around you because he’s still not neutralized. He says that the last thing the terrorist expects is for you to make a move and so it’ll catch him by surprise and if you’re already stabbed, that’s also OK because a person doesn’t feel pain right away after being injured.

And for the millionth time I remember what a Holocaust survivor once said to me – that every Jew should learn krav maga – an Israeli-developed self defense system.

New walking style

Whenever out I use the new Israeli walking style implemented by many of us here – walk, look behind, no earphones, listening around us, look behind again and keep on walking.

Trying to keep track

I try to keep up with who’s been injured and killed even though it’s really hard both technically and emotionally. I look at pictures of the people who have been in the attacks, read what they have to say and hope for their full recovery.

Israeli humor

Just like during the Gulf War (which happened our first year in Israel), terrible situations bring out some serious humor among Israelis. And many of us revel in it for comic relief. For example, people are laughing about all the random items being used to fight off the terrorists – like umbrellas, selfie sticks and even nunchucks. Someone also wrote a parody song about one of the female terrorists: “She only wants to stab.” Humor maybe only Israelis can appreciate.

Pride and frustration

I fluctuate between great pride for not “being like them” and great frustration for not being stronger.

The park

It’s 2AM and I’m sitting on my balcony. Over the last hour I’ve heard teenagers hanging out in the park and now a group of bikers (seriously) chilling. There was also a biker who rode by a few minutes ago. You almost wouldn’t know that anything is wrong.

So hard to concentrate

I know I have two meetings and lots of work to do tomorrow but in general it’s so hard to concentrate while we all wait with bated breath, hoping there are no more attacks and wondering what’s going to be.


Now I’m going to go to sleep and then wake up, check my phone, nervously leave for work, pray nothing happens to any of us, knowing full well we just don’t know what’s going to be. I’ll go to my meetings, talk about the situation with people, check the news and try to concentrate on my business.

And meanwhile I’ll keep saying, “Thank you. Thank you.” And I’ll keep laughing and crying and feeling infuriated and hopeful and I’ll keep holding my breath that little bit I keep holding it, hoping we’ll all be OK.

Shavua tov.

Haifa in photos

I spent three days in Haifa in April, 2013. If you’d like to learn more about what there is to do in this lovely city, check out my piece about that. If you want to know how to pack for three days, click here. Otherwise, please sit back and enjoy the (slide)show created by me for you. :)

Everything I saw in Haifa besides the Baha’i Gardens because they need their own gallery (see below!)

The Baha’i Gardens get their own gallery

To learn more about what there is to see in Haifa and details about these places, click here.

What to see while in Haifa

Where do you think this was taken? (Hint: There is another picture of this bridge in this post.)

In April 2013 I decided to give myself a three day adventure in Haifa. I wanted to see interesting things while making sure to keep within a tight budget.

Yeffe Nof Street (translated to "Beautiful View")
Yeffe Nof Street (translated to “Beautiful View”). More about it below.

The trip ended up costing me around 400NIS in total (including travelling to/from Jerusalem) and I had a wonderful time.  I found Haifa to be a beautiful mix of urbanity and au naturale. It’s a place where you get to see interesting and pretty things while feeling the calmness of the mountain, the forest and the sea. It was lovely.

This post includes tons of information regarding places worth seeing, including dry details like contact information and entrance fees. It’s based on the extensive research I did for myself before embarking on my adventure. I didn’t find any other resources as comprehensive as this and so, while it is not a complete list (only almost), I hope you’ll find it useful.

The attractions are mainly bunched by area. The bold writing represents details like directions, contact information and price. 

In case you thought otherwise, I’m not responsible for any decisions you make, ever, whether regarding your relationship with your boyfriend or your decision to take my advice. :) In other words, double check, don’t blindly follow and I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Also please stay tuned for a photo album from my trip coming shortly.

Public transportation on Google Maps and Wikipedia as my guide

I can’t tell you enough how amazing it was using Google Maps on my smartphone throughout my trip. It now offers public transportation information in Israel and I used that option many times every day. I also used a regular (paper) map that I got at the hostel and the two together were perfect.

One bus/subway ride in the city costs 6.60NIS. The ticket is a transfer for 90 minutes.

Also, often when I’d arrive somewhere, I’d look up the place online and read about it on Wikipedia. It was a great way to learn on the go! Continue reading “What to see while in Haifa”

How to pack for three days away

When I realized that I hate packing but do enjoy the occasional get-away, I created this packing list to try to make it less stressful. It is for travelling within the country, in Israel, but for this post I’ve added some items necessary for international travel.

Photo by mzacha.
Photo by mzacha.

In the comments, please write all items that you see are missing, for domestic and international travel.

Some obvious things, like a wallet, are not included in this list.

I have successfully used this list twice already – once for a Shabbat in Tzfat and once for a three day vacation in Haifa. Both have been happy trips, partially as a result of my good packing job. :)

Happy travels!


  • Water
  • Thermos filled with hot tea (This is my thing and it’s a pleasure having this when on the road.)
  • Tea bags
  • Sandwiches
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Snacks


Jaffa Gate, where Jerusalem’s Old meets New

Jaffa Gate,

You are an iconic meeting point in Jerusalem. Of histories, peoples, religions, locals, tourists, pilgrims, empires, old and new.


You are one of the eight gates of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. You were built in the years 1535-1538.

When people walk into the Old City through you, they can turn left to the Christian Quarter, go straight to the Muslim Quarter or turn right to the Armenian Quarter. If they follow past the Armenian Quarter, they will reach the Jewish Quarter.

Emperor Suleiman
Emperor Suleiman

You are very well known. You are one of the main entrances people use on their pilgrimages to the Old City. As part of the Old City walls, you’re familiar with Sultan Suleiman, the man who thought you up. Legend says he had your planners killed because they didn’t include the City of David (the actual biblical city of Jerusalem) in the walls. They are buried right beside you. Charming fellow, he was.

You saw when a huge chunk of wall was broken down right next to you so that the German emperor could enter on horseback in 1898. Silliness indeed.

You’ve seen wars. Most recently, Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 which saw all Jews kicked out of the Old City and the Six-Day War of 1967 which saw the place inside your walls made into a space where all religions can practice.

For hundreds of years you’ve watched millions of pilgrims from all over the world, passing through you on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to the Western Wall, to the Dome of the Rock.

For hundreds of years you’ve watched locals sell snacks, tours and souvenirs to these people.

You’ve seen oh so much construction. You went up in the 1500s. The Ottomans built a clock tower right on top of you in 1907. That came down. In 1912 the Bezalel art school built a pavilion next to you to sell art. That was brought down a few years later too. People put up little shops along the walls. Those were removed in order to preserve the walls’ original look. Most recently, the square on your outside has become large and beautiful and the walls have been fixed up.


And the traffic has been redirected under a tunnel instead of right next to you as it used to be.


Jaffa Gate, from the mid-1800s, Jerusalem began overflowing outside of the Old City walls and today it spans many times bigger than it ever was. From where you stand you’ve watched it happen and where you stand, you will always remain one of the main thoroughfares from the New City into the beloved old one.

Yes, you are indeed an iconic meeting point. You are beautiful and you’ve seen it all. If only gates to talk…

This post is in reply to wp.com’s weekly writing challenge.

I think I love thee, O Jerusalem

This piece was first published on Times of Israel. (Edited – read “improved” – June 2, 2013.)

Dear Jerusalem,

You are a tough place to live. You are a tough place to love.

It’s one thing to deal with your crowds, the multitude of cultures, the personal safety issues, and the religious turbulence as a tourist. It’s a whole other thing to live inside you, and to be engulfed with these things every single day.

And so, I have never really loving you despite always feeling committed to you.

But it wasn’t you. It was me.

You are a wild, in-your-face, livin’-on-the-edge, eastern city. For some, wild is a natural choice. But not for me; it’s not who I am.

That’s why I had to leave you for Vancouver in 2006.

After being a Jerusalemite for 16 years, I realized that I was sick of you. I found you rude, loud and unattractive. You also made me claustrophobic. When I noticed just how badly our relationship made me feel, I knew it was time for me to leave.

Then I met Vancouver. It’s a beautiful place where nothing much happens. It is peaceful and off the map – in many ways exactly what Jerusalem is not.

And I loved it.

I’m sorry, Jerusalem; Vancouver was the first city I ever loved. Because that was easy; I arrived, saw the ocean, the mountains, the sweet homes… A few people smiled at me on the street, and I was sold.

In many ways it was the perfect relationship. It was peaceful and I was able to express myself, my Jewishness, however I wanted – something I had never experienced with you. I had a sense of freedom I’d lacked here.

But no, I never forgot thee.

Because my roots are your roots. I didn’t know how I could ever live within you but something was missing when I lived without you.

And so, after two and a half years in Vancouver, I started the six month process of convincing myself to give you another chance. Returning to you was even more terrifying than leaving had been because it meant returning to a relationship that hadn’t work the first time.

I kept recalling how unhappy I had been in my former life. Neither of us could promise it would be different. But I was compelled to try. I had done some growing up and maybe you had too. I prayed this time we would fit.

Jerusalem, I gave Vancouver many kisses goodbye. I visited some last places, parted from friends. I said, “I love you but I have to go.”

I cried. And then I left… Knowing I may never return.

Our renewed relationship began on the eve of Rosh Hashana 2009. Jerusalem, you were buzzing with holiday preparations. My parents’ home was vibrant and I was surrounded by family members. Despite jet lag, I helped prepare for the holiday, so excited to finally spend it at home once again.

This was one of the most deeply emotional moments of my life. Not only a new year was beginning but a new life full of opportunity lay before me and I was proud to have decided to begin it all with you.

Jerusalem, I did not fall in love with you overnight. Someone like me can only grow to love a place like you.

Now, years later, I struggle through your hot summers but am in love with your glorious air. I am anywhere from uncomfortable to fearful of some of your Arab inhabitants but I am grateful not to be living in a bubble. I work hard to pay for a small flat but thank my good fortune for living in the home of my dreams in my favourite neighbourhood. I have even been learning how to express my unique Jewishness not hiding in Vancouver but right here where everyone can see.

I love where east meets west deep inside of you. I stand on Derech Hevron on the Cinematheque bridge and look out to the Old City, the new city and the hills of the Judean Desert.

I walk on the train tracks on Yaffo Street downtown where all kinds of characters roam, and I know when one chooses a relationship with you, one chooses to live on the edge.

You are the place where things happen. Your history is so long that some archaeologists chuck aside anything found that is less than 2,000 years old. You are the heart of the Jewish people and it is under Jewish leadership that you have become a pluralistic city, open to people of all religions.

I find myself at peace inside of you despite all the challenges you pose and all the hard work necessary.

O Jerusalem, I will always think of Vancouver as a beautiful little corner of the world but you are the real deal for a Jewess like me. You are prickly and stoney and yet you are beautiful and welcoming in a way not everyone can see.

I am blessed because now I am able to see it.

And I love you. I truly do.

The Gilad Shalit deal does not make us that righteous

Three days ago Gilad Shalit came home. I think we’re all still collectively rubbing our eyes to make sure it isn’t a dream. Who wasn’t totally shocked to see him walking and in one piece after five years and four months in conditions we all rightfully assumed were very bad? And who can believe that Gilad really is now at his family’s home after celebrating Simchat Torah with them after so many years?

Of course the other thing we can scarcely believe is that this week we decided to equate one lone Jewish life with 1,027 Arab terrorist lives.

When I watch videos of Gilad on Israeli soil, I know we did the right thing, getting him home where he belongs.

But now we’ve gone and become all self-righteous and this, I believe, is not right. Do we really think that the exchange for Gilad proved that we’re a light unto the nations? Did it prove that we truly believe in the sanctity of life? And can we really feel comfortable quoting the Mishna that says that if you save one life, it’s as if you saved an entire world?

Anyone who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful

Yes, when I see the images of Gilad, finally in real time, I am deeply moved. When I see him reunite with his family and salute the prime minister, I’m so touched. But let’s consider some other typical Israeli scenes. Like those of people being blown to pieces in a pizza shop. A sick man hanging out a window, cheering and being cheered on by the crowds as he shows off his blood-stained hands after lynching a Jew in Ramallah.

We sanctify life? Where is the proof if we allow such a lowly person to live all these years? And worse, we invest in him by allowing him to live off the Jewish state (a state with many needy people). And since we grant him the privilege of life, he gets to dream that some day he’ll be free to lynch another Jew. He basks in his disgusting fame and we let it continue. And now, because he was sitting uselessly in an Israeli jail all these years, the day has indeed come. He’s been released and most definitely is ready for his next attack against Jews.

Now, capital punishment for the worst terrorists against Jews and Israel – that would show that we believe in the sanctity of life.

And what about the fact that 11 of the terrorists were released to East Jerusalem? Jerusalem, as in, the Israeli capital. Inside undisputed borders as far as we’re concerned (supposedly)? There were some great street parties there the day they were releasted, celebrating Israel’s decision to harbour terrorists in our own capital.

One person in another Israeli city was appalled when she had to see a group of Arab workers across the street from her house celebrate the release of one of the murderers. All these celebrations inside Israel. Why do we allow it?!

Yesterday, on October 20, the Israel Police’s official Facebook page had the following update (translated from the Hebrew):

Half an hour ago, a bus of 40 Israeli citizens from different towns arrived at the Hadarim Jail.

The passengers began a protest there, waved Palestinian flags and called for the abduction of more Israeli soldiers in order to ensure the release of all the security prisoners in Israel.

Israeli security forces arrived at the scene and requested of the protesters to clear the area since they were assembling there illegally. After requests by the police a few times, and after the protesters refused to leave, 12 of them who were carrying Palestinian flags and calling for the kidnapping of soldiers, were arrested.

Now the protesters have been removed to the bus and the event is over.

Why does this report only mention that the assembly was illegal? What about the fact they are calling for the kidnapping of soldiers? We allow people to express their obviously traitorous opinions in our country? There should be serious repercussions for people who choose to celebrate terrorism against Israel or support kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Until that happens, we have not truly proven our belief in the sanctity of life.

Of course this is not to mention other steps that should be taken in order to deter terrorism. For example we should not return the bodies of terrorists to their families. We should bury them ourselves, with pig skin (then there will be a great reason for growing pigs in Israel). And we should seriously consider returning to the policy of demolishing their homes. Again, these actions would prove our belief in the sanctity of life. They play on their ridiculous beliefs, deter future terrorist activity and show our important disrespect for their barbaric ways.

Because really this part of the world is way simpler than many people want to believe. Our neighbours don’t want us to exist and they believe it’s holy work getting rid of us. I think that this is the #1 rule of the region as far as Israel is concerned and all that’s left is for us to compile a set of rules around that.

Of course this is far from pleasant and so we usually complicate things with Western ideas some of which just don’t work with our very un-Western neighbours. They get us in trouble. Like when we worry about killing the (possibly) innocent bystander on our enemy’s side and, worst of all, when we worry what everyone else will think, we’re paralysing ourselves against the evils that face us.

So the same goes for Gilad Shalit. Are we sure there was no other viable way to get him home? Or did we complicate things with worries? I wonder how this ended up being the path chosen and wonder if there weren’t any other options that more truly would have expressed our belief in the sanctity of life. Like cutting off Gaza from Israel until they gave Shalit back and making it clear how much Gaza residents would suffer if Gilad were to be killed, God forbid.

It’s very hard for me to believe that there were no other options that may have been less popular with the international community (and many Israelis), but could have gotten Shalit back earlier and without having to release 1027 terrorists.

Meanwhile, whatever anyone thinks about the deal that was reached with Hamas for Gilad, it’s a relief to welcome him home. I have no idea how Gilad and his family survived such a nightmare and I thank God it’s finally over.

And now it’s time for us to really start proving to ourselves that we’re a light unto the nations by starting to implement serious steps towards deterring terrorism. That way we can know that we are truly cherishing the lives of Israeli citizens and prevent any future Sbarro, Dolphinarium or Park Hotel horrors.

Crazy, ridiculous Israeli commercials

I wonder, is the rest of the world watching these embarrassing (OK, sometimes amusing) Israeli commercials? Israeli TV usually goes between one and 100 steps beyond my comfort zone. Here are some examples:

Moshe says the f word?! (GPS commercial)

Charedim dancing about HD TV

I assume this is offensive to ultra-Orthodox Jews. At least there are no women in this one! That practically makes it kosher! Honestly, this one is sort of cute.

Hippie runs fellow hippie over?

I don’t really get this one. Such silliness.

McDonald’s commercial

Meh. This one is not so great and not so terrible. They don’t even show the cheese on the burger so it’s practically kosher too!

Ministry of Tourism advertises Israel

Any of us who live in Israel know how totally honest and realistic this ad is for Israel. Uhu.

Water and capoeira

This one is actually artistic. Very nice.


This one is disgusting.

Nerdy suave man choking on an olive for Tnuva

So, are Israeli commercials worse than the others you’ve seen? Should we be embarrassed or proud?

P.S. I already published this post but just found another one that is actually pretty cute. This dude can’t find parking and then figures out the perfect solution (not what I thought!).


The Middle East and North African refugees

Who do you think of when refugees connected to the Middle Eastern “conflict” are mentioned? The approximately 800,000 Jewish ones from North Africa and the Middle East, of course. Right?

Well, no. The story of the Jews in Arab countries whose lives became increasingly unliveable starting around the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 is little known. So many of them had to flee for their lives. Many were held prisoners, terrible pogroms were acted out against them, until they almost totally cleared out of what became hostile territories for the Jews. Many of whom had lived in those areas for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.

You can read this article by the JTA in order to learn more about the organizations who have taken it upon themselves to document these refugees’ stories.