Tuesday, June 26, 2007

 

THE WAY WE WERE

When I came here thirty-two years ago we were free to go to almost any place we wanted to. When the weather was grey and cold in Jerusalem we drove for thirty-five minutes and we were in Jericho - where we sat outside in a garden restaurant and ate all kinds of good Arab food - in the sun and in the warmth - before stopping to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables in the outdoor market. Not any more.

My husband was great friends with Elias Freij - the then-mayor of Bethlehem - and his son, George Freij. We used to drive to Betlehem where my husband would pass the afternoon sitting and drinking endless cups of sweet, thick coffee with Elias and George and I would take my little plastic shopping basket and wander down to Milk Street where the grocery sold all sorts of things that weren't then imported into Israel - Philadelphia Cream Cheese and tinned tuna. Not any more.

I used to go to East Jerusalem to have my car repaired at Mr. Rizek's place. He was arguably the only absolutely straight and honest car mechanic I ever met. While my car was sitting at Mr. Rizek's I would walk around the corner to the City Grocery to shop and then cross the street to the family-owned florist to buy my flowers. Not any more.

This evening was a bitter-sweet reminder of what was and what could be again - if only.....

My friends, Yoav and Ernesto, invited me to a concert at the American Colony Hotel this evening. The concert was one of a series sponsored by the Austrian Music Encounter called "Sounding Jerusalem" - all taking place in various Arab sections of Israel - East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jericho, Beit Hanina, Bethlehem....and there we were - Jew and Arab alike enjoying the classical music concert. The way it used to be.

During intermission Ernesto struck up a conversation with a young Arab man, Mohammad, who is an artist and the Cultural Page Editor of Al-Quds - a daily Arab newspaper. A charming and cultured young man whose family is from Jaffa. As we were going out to dinner afterward we invited him to come along - and Dalia, a friend of Yoav's and Ernesto's, who is here from Miami to attend a conference joined us, too.

So there we sat around a table in the garden of the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem - one Israeli Arab, two American/Israelis, one German/Israeli and one Cuban/non-Jew - our very own United Nations.

And as I can't write anything without mentioning food - let me tell you the food and service were wonderful. We all shared fresh and delicious "meze" (those little plates of salad ubiquitous on Arab tables - but these were particularly outstanding), brains in a lemon sauce, stuffed spleen, kebabs, good wine, cold fresh watermelon and Turkish coffee. In the interest of being totally honest - only Ernesto and I ate the brains and spleen (that's stuffed miltz to those of you from Ashkenazi homes) - the rest turned up their collective noses. They don't know what they missed.

That's the way it used to be - that's the way I want it to be again - Jews - Arabs - non-Jews - sitting together as friends with no thought of ethnic background or origin. With no discussion of politics - not becuse we made any kind of decision not to discuss politics - there was just so much else to talk about. Will we ever be the way we were?

Yalla, Bye.




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