Oh, Jerusalem: High impact presentation of a high impact city

Every day I wake up, get myself and what feels like 3853075 other people ready for our routines, drag my ass to my car and eventually end up on the road into work.

The thing about that road is, it’s the road to Jerusalem.

And not just the road to Jerusalem, but the road to some of the holiest places, to billions of people.

And, begrudgingly, exhausted, sitting in my car, podcast-listening, sun-glare in my eyes, cursing at tunnel drivers, I forget this. Every, single, day.

But yesterday, I remembered. It’s been years since I looked around a room and thought, Oh, Jerusalem.

A co-worker signed us up for a 2-day intensive Dale Carnegie workshop on giving high impact presentations. I went in with no expectations; to be honest I’m too busy to have expectations these days. So I thought I’d get some public speaking tips and move on.

The course itself was incredible – an absolute mindfuck, actually – and maybe I will write about that another time. It doesn’t take a tenured psychologist to understand that my self talk when I present does not match the incredible feedback I got from peers (aka, in my mind, I have no right making  fun of Donald Trump for the insane shouting and hand gestures; I’m an ex-New Yorker too – but no one else seemed to see that or care).

By the end of the first day, after the 13 of us had each given several presentations, vulnerably, hilariously, warmly, I caught myself looking around and seeing the people in the room in a Jerusalem light. What a cliche, I thought. The Evangelical Christian, the Muslim Arab, the Hassidic Jew, the national religious Jew, the modern observant Jew, the traditional Jew, the secular Jew. Educators, non-profit do-gooders, community organizers, procurers of Zionist fervor, ambassadors of Startup Nation. European accent. Russian accent. Various Anglo accents. Arab accent.

So Jerusalem.

Then today, we came back. Presenting our passions – social causes, educating teens on dealing with academic stress, getting Christians and Jews to repair centuries of damage, making the Jewish Quarter of the Old City a more pleasant place. Creating opportunity for anyone to invest in innovation. Bringing young Jews to Israel to fall in love and move here. Empowering Jewish women to take back their power.

How very… all over the place.

Our trainer from the States had to say it. I had wondered yesterday if he had thought it, and then here he was at the end of day two, and he had to say it. This place… it’s moving, it makes you think, it’s powerful. Look at all of you here, together. It gives you hope. 

You know, I should hear it more often. I’m in Jerusalem every day. Getting my things together, scrambling to the car. Foot alternating between gas and brake pedals, weaving past signature white stone. Driving on an ancient road that eventually gets you to one of the holiest places for billions of people. Just ten minutes from where I spend the majority of my day time figuring out new ways to invite people to invest in this place. Ten minutes from where billions of people throughout history have invested so much energy and time and emotion.

I should hear it more often – it gives you hope.

Oh, Jerusalem.

Birkat Kohanim at the kotel.

I had never seen it, and my dad is of the priestly persuasion, so the three of us went down to the kotel in the Old City yesterday to hear/see/be present at the ginormous Birkat Kohanim for chol hamoed Sukkot.

Birkat Kohanim – known as ‘duchaning’ in Ashkenaz circles – is like a representation of the old days, when the kohanim would bless the people of Israel. On the 3 regalim – Pessach, Shavuot and Sukkot – it got more intense, since those were pilgrimage holidays. Jews from all over Israel would travel to Jerusalem, to the Beit Hamikdash, to deliver their sacrifices and be blessed.

So this was a mini pilgrimage of sorts – a traveling to the Old City, which I very rarely do anymore.

It was bursting with people, and it was the first time I’ve ever gotten a sense for what it must have been like back in the old days, when Jews would pack themselves in to even smaller spaces. It felt crowded, it stank and it was incredible to behold.

Originally, when I was considering going, I thought I was going for the view – hundreds of Kohanim gathering under their tallitot at the front of the wall. But the scene wasn’t spectacular like I thought. It was actually what I heard – the sounds of the blessings, the voices of the Kohanim, the amens of the Jewish crowd.

Take a peek (or more, take a listen) of the service here.

And the diversity, of course, can always be described in the photos:

Yom Yerusha-what?

Last night, I completely forgot it was the evening of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). If I had remembered, I might have at least considered going down to the Old City to pay my respects and tributes.

What is it about modern Jerusalem that makes it so easy to forget? Is it the modernity in it? Is it the politics? The imperfection?

Part of it for me is the political implications. Sure, 41 years ago today, Jerusalem was ‘reunited’ – on paper. In some of our hearts. In some of our minds.

Part of it for me is the general apathy. The municipality tries to make the city more attractive, tries to find the bridge between ancient and holy, and modern and successful. It’s not working though. People are leaving. The city is becoming more Charedi, Arab and touristy.

Part of it for me is the letdown. For the first 12 years of my life Jerusalem was a holy city, untouched by rubbish. When I visited here for the first time, I was severely disappointed. Blame the high expectations on my diaspora yeshiva education, on my enthusiastic tefillot, on my imagination, but the fact is – it’s just not even close to the Jerusalem I thought I was supposed to long for.

I suppose the main thing about a reunited Jerusalem of 41 years is the attainment of the Old City. Maybe later I will go down and there and say a word or two. Or maybe I won’t.

East siiide.

City feature: Caesarea

Caesarea is one of those Israeli cities that, when coming up in conversation, everyone nods their heads and says, “Oh yes, beautiful place, I’d like to get back there one of these days.”

After hearing that for over three years, I decided it was time. We took a day of our chol hamoed and drove up to the coastal city, leftovers of what was once a Herodian entertainment center.

Part of the intrigue was the famous aqueduct built there by the Romans. Here’s what websites have up, beckoning you to come see the magic in person:

Because it’s a historic site, I figured the photos would be true to the reality (or is that the other way around?) but I seemed to have forgotten where I live and who my country men are… Because this is what we found:

Ceasarea aqueduct

Caesarea aqueduct

Despair not, however; Caesarea is still a beautiful city resembling a giant golf resort with mansions surrounding… After all, the aqueduct beach is the only free area in the city, so, you know.

The old city, which is reminiscent of Yaffo and Akko, was worth a walk in the 40 degree sun:

Caesarea old city view

mosaic old city Caesarea

Caesarea old city ruins

old city Herodian pillars

Herodian amphitheater