A recent travelogue that appeared in the New York Times has made its way around various circles in the Jewish world. Because the article received so much hype and because it also alternatively received buff rebukes from a majority of readers who were left with a sour taste in their mouths, I decided to post it to my blog and have you read the article for yourself. Please find the link to the online copy of Lost in Jerusalem by clicking on the previous title.
What I like about this article is that it paints the city of Jerusalem in a positive light, showcasing its southern California bohemian vibe and its surprising modernity - even by Western standards - as compared to the remainder of the Middle East. The writer, I believe, leaves you overall with an interest in visiting the world's oldest and most famous city.
However, what I didn't like about the article - and what many, many others also disliked - began with the writer's baffling attitude that despite the fact that he has visited and will continue to visit any place in the world, he was particularly against the notion of visiting Israel. I understand the general view of Israel in the media and thus, why a layman would not necessarily have an interest in going; however, for a Jewish person - and one in particular who travels the globe for work - to not have either an interest or a calling to visit the Jewish homeland is downright insulting. Has the Birthright Israel Program - which brings hundreds of thousands of young Jews from around the world to Israel for a free 10-day trip of a lifetime - done nothing to change the public opinion of this country? Because if you talk to anyone, and I mean anyone, who has done that trip they will report to you that Israel was and is nothing like the media portrays. Instead, it's a virtual Westernized and democratic nation sitting on Europe's eastern border. It is filled with westerners, Americans and Jewish people from all over the world. Most people who visit are surprised to find how modern and developed of a country it is and how relatable the people are.
Additionally, many find that the writer's experience of Israel and Jerusalem in particular is skewed. There is so much more to see in Jerusalem than its Old City. The Old City is definitely the first place to visit upon your arrival into the city. But, the modern city that sits outside of the Old City walls is really just as important. There's the modern and beautiful government district, which is like Israel's own little Washington D.C.; then there's the center of town at Ben Yehuda Street where you'll find a mix of the city's people gathering in one place; also Yad Vashem and the Israel Museum, two of the world's most important museums; there's also the trendy German Colony which could be in anytown USA; additionally, you will find spectacular views from the Hebrew University, one of the world's leading universities with one of the most diverse student bodies anywhere in the world; and the list goes on and on, noting significant sites of importance to three of the world's largest religions. It is not just a surprising mishmash of trendy restaurants, bars and coffee shops - which visitors are always astounded to see.
So, the fact that this article seemed to circumnavigate the globe so quickly left many locals awry of the fact that the article did not really highlight all that it should have. Perhaps, though, every person's visit to Jerusalem is a different one. A Christian's visit will be different than a Jewish person's visit and respectively an Arab's visit. Also, visiting Israel for a wedding or Bar Mitzvah, a mission or a pilgrimage, or as part of a cruise stop or Birthright Israel trip will all leave you with different experiences of the holy land. So, although opinions on the article have run wild, I leave you to read the article for yourself to get a little taste of the city I have been calling home for the last year.