Jerusalem – between religious fanaticism and everyday normality

No other city confuses me as much as Jerusalem. The boundaries between deep faith and religious fanaticism are fluid here. Fortunately there is Ruth, who gives me an insight into a piece of normal everyday life in Jerusalem.

Orthodox Jews hastily hurry to the Wailing Wall. In front of the Wailing Wall there is a packed crowd. Entire families, not only a few with five to six children, all dressed up festively, streaming to the square in front of the Wailing Wall. On the right side women step against the wall, on the left side there is the place for men. They are strictly separated from each other by a screen. A few women climb onto one of the plastic chairs standing on the square in front of the Wailing Wall and look over to the men.

Many are engrossed in prayer with tilting movements. They stick little pieces of paper into the cracks in the wall on which they have written their wishes. There are many papers. The ground in front of the wall is covered with white paper.

A young woman from Asia is standing in the midst of the praying people. She respectfully touches the wall with both hands and then poses for a selfie of herself and the praying people.

Shabbat Prayer Jerusalem
Families come from all directions to Shabbat Prayer
Wailing Wall Shabbat
Before the Wailing Wall. Probably no other Satdt in the world prays as much as Jerusalem

In the background the Muezzin calls to prayer and church bells ring as if they wanted to draw attention to themselves. Soldiers gather at the square in front of the Wailing Wall. They sing merrily and cheerfully, grab their neighbour by the shoulders and form a large dancing circle. It is Friday evening. Time for the Shabbat prayer.

I am in one of the holiest places in Judaism.

Platz Klagemauer
The square in front of the Klagemauer fills on Friday evening

Nearby, at the same time, Muslims lay out their prayer rugs in the mosque and Christian pilgrims light candles in the Church of the Resurrection and place souvenirs on the anointing stone for their families and friends at home, while some of them pray almost rapturously.

The Church of the Resurrection is one of the holiest places of Christians.

In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jerusalem, who points the way now?

With a little distance the view from the Mount of Olives catches the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock.

The Dome of the Rock is one of the most important mosques of Muslims.

Behind it the bell towers of the numerous churches stand out. Unfortunately, this juxtaposition of churches does not extend into the peaceful coexistence of religions everywhere.

View Old City Jerusalem
The View from Mount of Olives over the Old City of Jerusalem

Jerusalem – a lack of normality

Jerusalem confuses me, even though this is my second trip to Jerusalem. This city cannot be categorized. The border between deep faith and fanaticism blurs. Faith sometimes produces strange flowers.

Crown of Thorns Jerusalem
In the alleys of Jerusalem the suitable accessories for pilgrims from all over the world are sold

I don’t like extremes and there is probably no other place where you can find such an accumulation of extremes as in Jerusalem. And yet this city fascinates me in an almost mysterious way. As if it had something magical. The view from the roof of the Austrian hospice in the middle of the Arab quarter is breathtaking.

View from the Roof of the Austrian Hospice Jerusalem
From the Roof of the Austrian Hospice you have a fantastic view over the city
Jerusalem Blick
Fascinating, how nested Jerusalem seems in many respects

Despite its beauty and fascination, Jerusalem is difficult to endure. And yet this “lack of normality” that reigns between the old city walls has something captivating about it. Perhaps one must have experienced and sensed Jerusalem in order to understand this feeling. As a person who does not believe in any church or religion, but rather in a universal divine order, Jerusalem is hardly comprehensible to me.

Altstadt Jerusalem Gassen
In the alleys of the Old Town of Jerusalem

Jerusalem all “normal”

But Jerusalem can also be quite different: It is relaxing, banal and normal. An insight that is very releasing after a tour between the walls of the old city of Jerusalem!

Shuk and Cook – with Ruth at the Mahane Yehuda Market

Near the Mahane Yehuda Market, the largest market in Israel, I meet with Ruth Yudekovitz .

Shuk and Cook with Ruth
Kibbeh, these are small fried balls of minced meat or mushrooms with bulgur

Ruth’s in her late forties. She has conscious, open eyes. She grew up in the U.S.A. After graduating from college, she spent a year travelling through Europe “until I almost ran out of money in Greece. So I travelled to Israel to work in a kibbutz, as was typical at that time. I fell in love with the country and shortly afterwards with a man,” she reveals. When my sons were small, we moved to the United States, to New York for a while. But I felt very isolated there. In Israel, people are much more open and very family-friendly. So we came back here. Here I am at home.”

At the Mahane Yehuda Market about 200’000 visitors buy fresh vegetables every day, the “Challe”, a baked braid which is only available on Fridays for Shabbat, as well as tea, spices, herbs, humus and other food. Ruth takes me around the market. A feast for the senses.

Shopping at the market of Jerusalem
Everyday scenes at the market in Jerusalem
Challe - a pastry that is only available for Shabbath
The delicious braid “Challe” is only available for Shabbat

Scent of oriental spices, cumin, turmeric and sumac that try to outdo each other in colour and fragrance. In between fresh mint and ripe fruits in all colours and shapes.

Fresh Fruits on the Market of Jerusalem
A Dream for All Who Love Fruits
Spices on the Market of Jerusalem
The spices smell seductive

Merchants offer small delicacies for tasting – sticky sweet baklava with pistachios and pieces of bread with hummus. I’m in the country where milk and honey flow!

Israelisches Gebäck
Baklava – very sweet and delicious are the oriental sweets

After we got to know each other a little, Ruth sends me, equipped with a shopping list, to explore the market by myself. My job is to buy the ingredients for lunch. Since Ruth described me exactly what to buy from which merchant, it’s a simple matter and I get my job done quickly.

Market Life in the Old Town of Jerusalem
Normal Daily Life in Jerusalem – Shopping at the Mahane Yehuda Market

At home in Ruth

l’ll join Ruth on her way home. She lives in a quiet residential area. The neighborhood knows each other and when they meet they exchange a few friendly words. “Actually, we have a very high standard of living here, apart from the political and religious conflicts. Like all other people, we simply want to live in peace with our neighbours,” says Ruth. Here in Abu Tor the coexistence between Jews and Arabs seems to be a success. The conflicts seem to dissolve into everyday normality. At least that’s what Ruth says.

I don’t want to judge. In order to be able to understand the situation only approximately, it would need much more time and a more comprehensive knowledge about the people, their lives and their culture in Jerusalem.

We turn into a narrow lane between the walls. Behind the walls orange trees grow in front of the houses. On the left, a staircase leads up to Ruth’s apartment. She points to the windows at the stairs. “The windows down there belong to the synagogue. We live directly upstairs from the synagogue, which is nothing rare here”.

Through a large metal door we enter an airy, open room, which includes the living room, dining room and kitchen. An apartment like from one of the famous lifestyle magazines. Very stylish and modernly furnished. 3 to 4 times a month Ruth opens her apartment for guests from all over the world. Her concept is called “Shuk and Cook”. First we shop at the market, then we prepare the meals together and finally we enjoy the delicious food with nice conversations and good Israeli wine. This is an exciting insight into Israeli normality for her guests.

Cooking privately in Jerusalem
Ruth prepares the meal together with her guests.
Mezze Israel
Mezze, the small delicacies of Israeli cuisine

This completely different view of a normal life in Jerusalem makes me feel a little reconciled with all the fanaticism, the entranced people who give this exciting city a strange touch. Jerusalem can also be quite normal!

Jerusalem has touched my heart in its own way. I cannot really classify what I have seen. But I would travel to Jerusalem again any time. Jerusalem fascinates me in its very own fashion. The burden of a thousand year old history rests noticeably on the shoulders of this city. While Tel Aviv, not even an hour’s drive from Jersusalem, inspires by its lightness, Jerusalem seems to be the exact counterpart. Jerusalem is truly not easy to understand. A trip to Israel can hardly be more contrasting.

With thoughtful greetings,

Cafe Jerusalem
Even the cafés are holy here…

More info :

The experience “Shuk and Cook” with Ruth Yudekovitz can be booked via Kuoni in a travel agency. Further information can also be found on the Hoempage: Shuk and Cook

Auberginen Tahini
Auberginen mit einer Sosse aus Sesam und Grenatapfelkerne

Disclosure: This article was written during a press trip to which I was invited by Kuoni, Switzerland.


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