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Middle East Kavitha Dispatch

Beauty in Chaos
January 19, 2000

Map

Jerusalem's a city, caught between old and new,
A perplexing combination, sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Such opposites together how does it all work?
Let's explore its nooks and alleys and see what secrets lurk...

We'll begin with the old, a city walled in
3000 years of history, makes my mind spin.

Hundred's of winding narrow alleys, some hilly and some flat
Still made of the same stones upon which Jesus walked, can you believe that?!

Today this ancient city is divided into four
There's a section for Muslims, Jews, Christians, and more.

The last quarter's Armenian, but it's Christian too.
So about half of the Old City honors the Testament that's New.

For the rest of the Old City and beyond its city gates,
Jerusalem's a place shared by unlikely teammates.

The Jews live in the modern New City glitz,
While East Jerusalem is where the Arab center sits.

Click image for larger view
The crowds around the Damascus Gates

Leaving the Old City through crowded Damascus Gate,
You may think you have entered a whole new state.

Veiled women walk by as vendors sell produce and sweets,
People scream deals in Arabic, as taxis honk in the streets.

It reminds me of Marrakech, Alexandria, or Cairo,
The flavor of bustling Muslim cities that I have come to know.

But if, on the other hand, you left the Old City on the other side
And proceeded up Jaffa Road your eyes would open wide

For you've entered the New City, full of cafes and bright lights,
Join the youth gathered at Zion Square to find out what's happ'nin tonight!

Amidst all the hip people, some evenings you'll see
The religious Hasidic youth dancing and singing so free

With their music blaring loud, they are sharing their glee.
They believe in the way of their deep spirituality.
Click image for larger view
Israeli flags fly over Ben Yehuda Street

Wander up Ben Yehuda from Zion Square,
You'll find restaurants and stores and tourists everywhere.

It all seems so modern, just like Melrose Place,
But wander a few blocks to the North, you wouldn't find a trace

Of those platform leather shoes or trendy new styles
Here you'll see people have dressed the same for a long while.

The women wear long skirts and their hair they won't show
You're now in Mea She'arim, an Eastern European style ghetto.

The men wear black hats and strings tied around their waste,
and have two curls of hair hanging on either side of their face.

The locals here are very religious and most don't work each day,
They devote their lives to studying the Torah, with their time they pray
Click image for larger view
The women in the souq checkin' out the latest bargains

If you find yourself here, these warnings do heed,
Don't turn their lives into photo ops and dress modestly indeed.

Respect their traditional ways of being or else you may find
People throwing stones at you, or being most unkind.

My favorite part of Jerusalem is surely the food,
But remember in some places, if you don't share it is rude.

The Palestinian Arabs are so generous and kind,
on any shared taxi in East Jerusalem I'm sure you will find,

Strangers sharing all the food they just bought...
May as well eat it now, while the bread is still hot!

The Souq by Damascus Gate is where the Arabs all go
For breads and fruits and all the goodies they know.

The Mahane Yehuda Market not far from Zion Square
Is where Israelis shop to find delicacies made with such care.

Whether you choose market or souq, there's so much that's the same
Falafels, hummus, and olives, all the local foods of much fame.
Vocabulary
Hassidic - a sect of Judaism characterized by emphasis on mysticism, prayer, religious zeal, and joy
Torah - the Old Testament, the main staple of Jewish belief
hummus - a thick paste made from chickpeas, tahina, and seasonings, served in many Arab restaurants

But there are also differences, language is but one.
In the souq you'll have to bargain, which sometimes is fun.

The prices might get lower, a deal might be struck,
but head to the Israeli market if you're not having luck.

There the prices are set, higher they may be
At least you're not getting ripped off for being the tourist they see.

Sweets are everywhere in the market and souq.
You'll have to taste a lot of them, it's hard to just look.
Click image for larger view
Yummy pastries from the market

Arab sweets are syrupy layered with dates, nuts or cheese.
Of the many Israeli pastries, the chocolate rugullah's sure to please.

There's more division here than just between markets and sweets,
You see Israeli and Palestinian goals for the sacred city don't meet.

Jordan gained the East and the Old City during the '48 War,
And Israel took the New City, for it could get no more.

For years the city was divided at Mandelbaum Gate
Israel made its part the capital of its newly formed state.

In 1967, the War of 6 days
The city was 'reunified', but only in so many ways.

The Arabs and Jews still stick to their own sides,
" The situation's worse now," a Palestinian confides.

Israel still sees Jerusalem as its capital, now the city as a whole,
But the rest of the world is not so sure of its role.

Palestinians consider it a part of their state.
Foreign nations seem hesitant to get involved in this debate.

Jerusalem is where Israel's parliament still stays,
But the foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv, away from the craze.
Click image for larger view
 Looking out from one holy view to another

Strange as it may be, the craze suits me fine
For somehow all the difference balances a delicate line.

I've never been to a city with such intensity everywhere
The ancient meets the future amidst a diversity so rare.

So join the millions that flock here if you ever get the chance,
And stay for a while, Jerusalem needs more than a glance

To understand its complexity and appreciate the contrast.
Whether or not your religious I'm sure you'll have a blast!

Kavitha

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...kavitharao@bigfoot.com
 

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