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Let Jerusalem’s Biggest Problem Be Garbage

I’m beginning to get attached to these open letters I’ve been writing. I thought the last one was it – I mean, I wrote to GOD, for God’s sake. But then, today happened and the first thought that came to mind was writing an open letter…what can I say…creativity can be a burden 🙂

So – an open letter to the city of Jerusalem…and it’s Mayor, Nir Barkat (aka Batman)

Dear Jerusalem,

You are a city like no other. You are timeless in your beauty; spiritual and real at the same time. Like any city, people rush to work, shop, dine in countless cafes. You are cosmopolitan – Chinese and Mexican and Italian restaurants, steak houses and pizza and sushi and you are quaint and neighborly, home to so many. Amazing bakeries, great parks for children and adults, state-of-the-art hospitals and home to one of the best universities in the world, and so much more.

You are old and new – the ancient walls reflect the sunlight as the modern light rail makes its way past. Stones that are thousands of years old reflect lights controlled by some of the most sophisticated lighting systems.

You have a memory that spans thousands of years and you remembered our people when we were in exile and celebrated our return. You are united, never to be divided. For all the time we were away, we never forgot you. Your place in our hearts is eternal. You are the capital of Israel and more, of the people Israel.

Every year, for more than a decade, I have been working with my company to host a conference of tech writers and marketing professionals and all but one have been here in Jerusalem. Each time I bring people to this conference, I encourage them to schedule extra days so that I can show them my country, my people, my city.

I take them to Haifa, drive up to Rosh Hanikra, scoop across the northern border and past the Sea of Galilee and down (or up) the Jordan Valley. Sometimes I take them to the Dead Sea and Masada. Once I took guests down to Eilat and Beersheva. The land stands before me each year, a challenge, a promise. Show them here, it calls to me. The tomb of the prophet Samuel. This year, perhaps Hebron and the graves of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Yaakov and Leah. But then, I have to stop by the Tomb of Rachel as well. Perhaps this year, if there is time.

But most of all, I show them Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, I point out the “seam line” – that place where once you could stand and look across the street and see Jordanian troops occupying the buildings there. I show them the Old City and how it is alive and filled with visitors. I take them to their holy places and mine. And if the timing is right, I show them that magical moment when you stand overlooking the Western Wall and watch hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of Jews praying as to our right we hear the call to prayer of the muezzin and to our left we hear the ringing of the church bells from Mount Zion.

As we walk in the city center, and they see how normal and peaceful it is, I point out the memorial plaques. This bakery was once a pizza shop and on a beautiful summer day in August, 2001, it was attacked. Glass and blood filled the street where you stand now. Yes, it is peaceful at this moment, but we never forget and I don’t want them to forget either.

I take them to the amazing vantage points and show them the view. A man comes up and ties a red string on my guests wrist and blesses him and then quietly in Hebrew, a language my guest does not understand, asks if he is my husband and if he has any money. “Does he look like my husband?” I ask the man about my honored friend and guest from India and then I ask him not to ask the man for money. “Let him think you are a holy man giving him a blessing from God and not someone who just wants his money.”

And then a woman walks up to me, hands me a cup of hot soup and asks me to give it to Shoshana. I ask her in Hebrew who this Shoshana is and she explains that Shoshana sits on the steps going from the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall and it is cold. I take the soup and without thinking, I explain to my guest that we need to go down the steps to give Shoshana her soup. “Who is Shoshana?” he asks me…as if I know.

A woman approaches me and asks me to help her. Her bracelet opened and she can’t clasp it herself firmly and she is afraid of losing it. It was a gift from her mother-in-law, you see. I turn back to my guest and explain the latest request and he looks at me like I come from another planet. All this in the space of three hours of walking? It is too much for him to comprehend that this is a microcosm of Israel at its best. “What kind of world do you live in?” his eyes ask and so my voice answers, “What, this doesn’t happen in New Delhi?” but I am smiling because of course this doesn’t happen anywhere but here, here in Israel and especially here in Jerusalem. In my city that I love to share with people.

And once again, in just two days, my international guests will come in and I will show them…only…only today, Jerusalem, you stink.

Jerusalem, I know you are busy, but I have to ask, have you forgotten? I have a conference this Thursday and I really, really really don’t want to have to explain about no trains and garbage strikes.

No, explaining about terrorism isn’t easier but it might actually be less embarrassing than explaining that workers in the open market (Mahane Yehuda) threw trash on the tracks, bringing the light rail to a halt and the garbage can’t be removed because municipal workers are on strike.

So today I am amused at the irony that sometimes it might actually be easier to explain terrorism than a garbage strike. I guess I’d rather garbage than terrorism…

About the author

Picture of Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.
Picture of Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.
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