Monday, October 29, 2007

Dawn In Jerusalem

I started my walk at about 5:45, near Mea Shearim, the bastion of the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) community. Most hours of the day and evening this neighborhood is as crowded as Times Square, but this early in the morning the streets are mostly empty. Mostly, but not empty; quite a number of men were hurrying to their synagogues (I toyed with the idea of joining, but didn't. Some other time).

The walls are plastered with pashkavils, large-font announcements about all matters of importance. My eye was caught by a pashkavil with gigantic letters: DANGER! BACTERIA!! A horrendous epidemic is rampaging through the ranks of the youth of this most insular of communities, transforming fine young children, eager to learn, into zombie-like teenagers who have lost their Torah and are rotting away, while the wail of their parents and teachers rise to the heavens. However, the parents are warned, the bacteria infest well-identified places: the Internet, MP-4 players, non-kosher mobile phones (yes, there are kosher ones), newspapers, Keep your children safe from these dangers!!!!

Over the crest of the hill, in downtown Jerusalem at about 6AM, the streets are almost empty, with the exception of the usual suspects: a few sanitation workers, a police jeep, two young men, probably Arabs, loading racks with trays of pastry from the kitchen of the Cafe that now occupies the Sbarro pizzeria bombed in August 2001. (If you look carefully at the picture of the bombed cafe, you'll see on the lower left corner that there's an opening from the street level to the kitchen basement. The guys were taking trays out of that opening). I was a bit surprised to see that while all the shops were closed (6AM), the pastry shops seemed all open - I counted four of them on my route, and didn't even walk by the more obvious places. Walking south I saw an elderly, white-haired woman jogging, and an older woman wearing a gray dressing gown walking her dog. Two young tourists waiting for a bus, a Franciscan monk, and one haredi man in the wrong part of town.

The armed guard on the corner near the prime minister's residence was red-eyed; his two colleagues across from the entrance were discussing investments on the stock market, and at the far corner a guard was inspecting the papers of a fidgeting young man. As I passed them the young man was asking if there's any way they could do without these repeated inspections every time he walks by, and the guard seemed to be answering that no, there isn't. Which I found rather surprising, because in all the hundreds of times I've walked by there I've never been stopped, nor have I ever seen anyone else being stopped until this morning, and the only obvious thing that distinguished this guy was his rather outlandish haircut - which was only moderately outlandish.

A few minutes later, deep into a bourgeoisie residential neighborhood, two couples were playing tennis (6:30AM). One 50-something man called out to his partner as I passed the court "Haimon, if you win today, the coffee and cake are on me!". If they go downtown, there are lots of cafes to choose from.

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