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Thursday, January 5, 2012


We just returned from a week stay in Israel a few days ago. We went only to Jerusalem, a city made holy by our memories, not for tourism but to spend time with the family, and celebrate my daughter Debbi’s 40th birthday and her 10th wedding anniversary to Ran, her Israeli husband. My wife Ines, Debbi, Ran and our two grandchildren, Avi and Talya, came along. It was a great trip, though very short. Here are some personal impressions.

This time I found a greater alienation between the secular and the fundamentalist religious groups. Jerusalem is turning into a “haredi” (extreme religious) city. One top Israeli executive told me, “Seculars Jews have already given up.” This may be an exaggeration but there is a kernel of truth in it. The month of December was marred by attacks on women’s civil rights: an eight year old girl was hit by extremists because she was not dressed modestly; some Orthodox soldiers refused to listen to the singing of female soldiers; a woman was asked to sit in the back of the bus but she refused. Many leading Rabbis condemned this anti-women attitude by saying, “Israel does not belong to the religious alone.” A number of secular Israelis raised banners in Bet Shemesh that read, “This will not be another Teheran.”

There was quiet between Israelis and Palestinians during our stay, but animosities are still present. One day I went to Abu Shukri, a well-known restaurant in the Old City, which displayed a Palestinian flag on its wall. I ordered pita, humus and “Israeli salad.” The waiter told me, “We don’t serve Israeli salad here,” only “Arabic salad.” That was curious because in our hotel the same salad was labeled “Israeli,” even though many Israelis call it “Arabic.”

The Palestinians I met in Jerusalem seemed content living among Israelis. The Palestinian life-guard at our hotel, a student at the University, told me that he had many Israeli friends and that the problem was with the extremists on both sides. I walked the streets of the Old City without fear. Yet, when we took the train from the Center of Town towards the Hebrew University, we were told to get out of the train outside of the Damascus Gate because of a “suspicious object.” A police robot quickly discovered that it was harmless, and we boarded the train again. A passenger told me, “We live every day with miracles here.”

Because of Christmas and Hanukah, Jerusalem was full of tourists, more than ever before. Consequently, traffic between mid-mornings to around 8 pm. was terrible. A trip from Har Hatzofim to Talpiyot that usually takes about 15 minutes by cab often took us more than an hour.

The economy of the country seems to be doing well. We saw lots of people shopping at stores and local Malls. The new Mamila Mall is magnificent. The Western Wall was full of tourists as well as local Israelis. We visited the tunnels by the Western Wall- an archaeological marvel. You see under a glass walk, ruins that go back to the First and Second Temple.

The best time, however, was spent with the family. We walked by the Tayelet, went to the Hebrew Union College on King David Street, visited the Hebrew University, walked through Ben Yehudah Street, bought gifts at Geulah, attended an Orthodox service on Shabbat Eve, and ate almost every night at our son-in-law’s parents’ home. Quite a treat. We also got together for a great meal with our Israeli family and friends at Abu Gosh, an Arab village between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

And we returned happy but tired. Our grand-children are ready to go back. We too.

Rifat Sonsino

Jan. 5, 2012

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a wonderful trip, Rifat. Thank you for sharing your impressions about the internal religious conflicts. Difficult to imagine that Israel should have become such a modern prosperous country, and citizens fighting among themselves about such ancient customs. Or is that because there always needs to be something to fight about?