Thursday, May 14, 2020

An Evening Walk in Jerusalem

Israel has done very well coronavirus-wise. The number of deaths is quite low—about 250—for a country of about nine million.

A disproportionate number of the deaths and the infections are in nursing homes and the ultra-Orthodox communities, so the rest of population feels pretty safe.

The rate of infections has decreased considerably.  So, the country is “re-opening.”  Of course, we don’t know how many younger people are walking around without any symptoms but with the infection.

We live in a part of Jerusalem with lots of young people—post-Army, college students.  It’s usually a good thing.  Busy restaurants and cafes, festivals.  It’s lively and stimulating. But now many of the younger folks, seemingly impervious to the disease and apparently not overly concerned about unknowingly infecting their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and me, are walking and jogging and shopping and talking without masks. 

Jerusalem is having its first days of really hot weather, which makes for beautiful warm evening walks.  The rainy spring has made for strikingly colorful flowers.  And there is nothing like a Jerusalem sunset, especially if there are a few clouds in the sky.

So off I went for a walk on a beautiful spring evening.  Taking a walk in the Coronavirus Age is a different experience, particularly if you are a senior and/or have some health issues.

It’s a bit like playing tag except that instead of darting here and there in order to tag someone, you dart here and there in order to avoid coming within two meters of a potential infected person or, if you were inventing new words, an infectee.

I walked up to the street behind my building and made a left onto Rehov HaNasi (the President’s Street).  I congratulated myself as I walked without stopping past the small ice cream shop with delicious ice cream if somewhat odd flavors, and on past the President’s residence.  It’s a wide street with wide sidewalks and so, it was fairly easy to move here, detour a bit there, walk faster here, and cross the street there, in order to avoid human contact.

Then I turned down a narrower, quiet, beautiful street with vegetation aplenty.  I noticed a man just standing on the narrow sidewalk.  There being no cars to speak of, I crossed the street at a bit of an angle.  Then I noticed up four or five meters a woman just standing on the sidewalk.

As I started to cross the street again, I looked up and saw a man davening (praying) on a balcony.  It being around sunset and this being, after all, Jerusalem, that did not surprise me in the least.
As I reached the sidewalk, I again noticed another man just standing on the sidewalk.  Yes, it was a beautiful evening for hanging out but, even given that, this seemed like a lot of just hanging out.

I moved to the middle of the street and kept walking.  The “joy” of the coronavirus: so few cars you can safely walk down the middle of a street in Jerusalem, even when it is not Shabbat.  I looked down the street.  All the way to the end at the little neighborhood park, in front of almost every building, there was a man or a woman standing.

I looked up and to both sides.  On one or two balconies on almost every building there was a man or woman praying.  It was a street-long outdoor, super-safe minyan (10-person prayer group) on a beautiful Jerusalem evening.

I listened closely as I walked down the middle of the street.  Sweet voices praying quietly.  Alone but together, if that is possible.

A Jerusalem moment.

No mechitzah (divider between men and women).  No women’s balcony, although there were balconies for men and women in this open-air street shul.

It seems fitting, and thought-provoking, that the street was named for Ahad Ha’am, an early Zionist intellectual who favored Zionism as a cultural and spiritual renaissance.

On my short walk up the middle of the street, I witnessed, and partook in just a bit, a brief but beautiful renaissance by regular people of Jerusalem.  On Ahad Ha’am— Hebrew for One of the People.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

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