Jerusalem Back to Normal: But what will happen next?

This past year has shown no one can predict what will happen next.

After well over a year with so little happening due to corona restrictions, last week was one very busy, “back to normal” week.

Finally, too many good things happened hard to decide what to share first.

The view in the distance from the footbridge over Hebron Road appeared the same as for centuries the sun reflected off the Old City walls.

But as the week began, down below in the Sultan’s Pool, the huge stage was lit for a major Chabad event at night for men and boys.

At the same time across the way on the Begin Center main stage, the final performance of Rebecca: Mother of Two Dynasties was being performed by women for women.

The Begin Heritage Center was also the site for special weekly Bible sessions.

Of course, the Jerusalem buildings keep going up and up.

The old entrance of the President’s Hotel was been cemented shut.

Goodness, even those famous steps from the Montefiore Windmill down by Yemin Moshe are gone.

Some of the street work is hard to explain, with pavement recently done – being redone and landscaped.

And those new blue historical signs becoming more common than the regular road closures.

But this week there was more happening in Jerusalem!

Postponed for a year, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are to be held this summer.

The Israeli Olympic and Paralympic teams were invited to Beit Hanasi, the Israeli President’s Residence for a traditional sendoff and official photograph.

Large black & white photos of participating athletes were posted outside the main entrance.

The Japanese Ambassador to Israel attended and was interviewed by Walter Bingham, the world’s oldest active journalist at the young age of 97.

The Ambassador also posed with leaders from the Israeli Baseball team, playing for the first time in the Olympic competition.

The team photo was taking at Machane Yehuda Market, and two of the baseball players were at Beit Hanasi for the send off event.

Inside, the veteran Paralympic athletes had seats near the front.

For the first time in a very, very long time, the main hall was filled, over filled to capacity.

Ready to present a gift to President Rivlin was European gold medal winning rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram.

The traditional posed photographs were taken afterward outside, more HERE.

But how long has it been – two big events hosted at Beit Hanasi in one day?

And with full buffet tables!?

The same evening a business leaders conference included live entertainers.

Rows of invited guests, seated with the Israeli President, used to happen regularly, but not this last year of President Rivlin’s seven year term.

The round of farewells the past few weeks has been continuous.

The Israeli Business Roundtable had a cute image in their presentation.

President of Israel Reuven Rivlin spoke to full houses on Wednesday.

Then after Shabbat, he departed on a farewell visit to the United States at the invitation of President Joe Biden.

But he is to be back on Thursday morning, to hold a state reception ceremony for President Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany and his wife, on a state visit to Israel.

President Steinmeier of Germany will plant a tree in the Avenue of Presidents in the gardens of Beit Hanasi and will then sign the Beit Hanasi visitors’ book and President Rivlin will host a state banquet in their honor.

Jerusalem Israeli President House reception for Andrea Merkel and delegates

Three years ago, Beit Hanasi held a state dinner for Andrea Merkel.

A full schedule before July 7, 2021, when Israel is to get a new president.

Getting used to new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his emails. Since the airport has been a source of new corona variants, Bennett has appointed Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Ronni Numa: “who has been doing exceptional work in Bnei Brak and with the ultra-orthodox public. He will receive the responsibility to integrate and manage dealing with the coronavirus at the crossings.”

No certainty to when borders will be open and tourists will return.

And finally, I am slow today! How could I forget? This week also we had a reunion of former Virginians in Ramot Mall, as two couples were able to get into Israel from the US to see their children and grandchildren. So it’s happening, slowly.

Who knows what next will happen on the Jerusalem streets?

Hope we can see you here soon. Meanwhile, virtual tours are available.

Jerusalem Locked Down

In the middle of a conflict, later called the Second Lebanon War, I made aliyah and moved to Jerusalem, Israel.

I accompanied missions to southern Israel during multiple “operations.” We watched early Iron Dome successes over our heads at a rest stop café. From our van (buses were too big to exit in time) we ran to a ditch during a red alert. Crowded into a family’s bomb shelter in a border community during one warning siren, the mother could tell where the rocket landed by the sound. The bomb shelter was her children’s bedroom, they had never known another existence.

I used to really get around. Israel is really not so big.

There were northern border excursions during “heightened” alerts.

In an Arab town with Yassir Arafat and Abu Mazen photos looking down at me, I sat and listened to a woman’s land ownership story go unchallenged. For sure, I was very careful to stay with the group that time.

Even during the “stabbing intifada” I was out on the Jerusalem streets.

And then came along the microscopic novel coronavirus and I stayed home.

Finally, and for many weeks my morning walk was aimed to avoid people.

As the end of the second lockdown came to an end, I decided it was time to get out again and see what was really happening on the Jerusalem streets.

Some people used the time at home to improve their front porch gardens.

The building construction was so overwhelming, it requires a post of its own in the future. As you can see, there was no ban on building construction.

With less cars on the roads, road work closed and changed many streets.

Shops in Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall were closed during the lockdown.

The end of February was the last time I had gone to the Old City.

Usually, this area outside of the Old City near Jaffa Gate is filled with traffic, day or night. Not during this lockdown.

Usually, this area outside of Jaffa Gate, is filled with people.

Jaffa Gate was closed, as it was during the first lockdown.

Security was posted at the entrance, checking vehicles and pedestrians.

I had to show my press pass to enter. There was security at all gates. With the one-kilometer distance restriction, only residents were allowed to enter.

The only crowd I saw was waiting outside the Old City post office.

The stores inside Jaffa Gate were closed, as they have been for weeks. The tourism business has been extremely hurt for months.

The Armenian way had more flags than usual, but what was a very busy road in the past, with people and cars, day and night, was mostly empty.

There is a new archeological stop in the Rova HaYehudi, Jewish Quarter, but no visitors to learn the stories of these ancient finds.

A couple of the food places in the Jewish Quarter had take out prepared food, but no sit-down dinners or the usual walking noshers in sight.

There were more construction workers than worshipers near the Kotel, Western Wall. Construction of the new elevator is finally moving along.

The 1-kilometer distance regulation was enforced with more security by the Kotel. Showing my press pass was not enough, the guard wanted me to get close and hand it over for inspection.

I decided not enter the empty plaza to get to the partitioned area.

Two workers were on the scaffolding doing repair work along the Western Wall near the Southern Wall. More on that later also.

Jerusalem’s usually vibrant Old City was locked down and quiet.

What a contrast to the the traffic on other Jerusalem streets last week.

The sounds of traffic could be heard as the sun rose this morning, October 18, as some restrictions were lifted. The idea is to open slowly to avoid the increase in coronavirus cases as happened after the last COVID-19 lockdown.

This morning the family Whatsapp had the smiling faces of the under 6-year-olds off to gan, nursery school for the first time – again – this year.

The “Time” exhibit opened at the Islamic Museum in August.

What a time it has been! This most unusual holiday season is over.

Despite these crazy times of political and health uncertainty, the sunsets last week were colorful spectacles.

Nature, the sun and moon, the seasons changed as usual, despite the pandemic.

Another day, I also walked into town for the first time in months – but will save those lockdown photographs for next time.

חודש טוב

This image from Yoel Salomon Street of the hanging umbrellas overhead waiting for the summer tourists who never arrived, was popular on social media as a Shabbat Shalom greeting.

So I thought to use it again for a new greeting of Chodesh Tov.

The new Hebrew month of Marcheshvan is here.

May it be a good month and good year for all.

Stay safe and well!

How to Spend Time in Jerusalem in 2020

How to Spend Time in Jerusalem in 2020

Time.

Time in Jerusalem, Israel, as in much of the world during the corona pandemic, has become a blur. Days have become weeks, then months and a New Year is almost here.

Since March 2020, an 8:30 backyard minyan, morning prayer service, has been one constant. No need for a watch. I could set my clock to the minute when they start.

We live in a “mixed” Jerusalem neighborhood, and there is no synagogue on our street. But starting after Purim, I have woken up to the sounds of morning prayers. As  I brush my teeth or stand at the kitchen sink, I have been able to receive the Priestly Blessing from a distant voice.

Kotel during coronavirus for morning services

The Kotel, Western Wall, in the morning, was set up for bar mitzvah groups in keeping with the latest COVID-19 regulations. This time of year the area is often packed with thousands of people.

Kotel Plaza divided into sections for late night selihot during coronavirus pandemic limitations on size of gatherings

But this year at night, there are chairs set for Selihot placed “socially distant” from each other.

Chairs placed in Wilson Arch Kotel at night

The Kotel area inside Wilson’s Arch was set at night, ready for the next morning.

This screenshot of prepared prayer spots feels frozen in time.

Jerusalem path near the Israel Museum above the Valley of the Cross

In the past, I walked the Jerusalem streets for hours, looking for crowds, people, and interesting sites to share. Now going out means staying away from those crowds and avoiding people.

Recognizing friends at this time is not so simple. With hats, sunglasses, and masks, someone who you have not seen a few months can be difficult to recognize.

Sign for New Year gatherings in Jerusalem Plarks

Over the summer during this coronavirus time, Jerusalem began offering park camping opportunities. Families were encouraged to come to outside green areas. A sign in Nayot Park is encouraging families to spend their holiday time in nature areas.

Bunch of grapes growing on Jerusalem street

One image for the passing of time are grapes ripening on the vine.

Polce vehicle turning to exit park area

No, this police vehicle was not trying to block these people. The driver was on this part of the path–with no vehicular exit–for his first and last time.  He got stuck, and had to back up and try and turn around to get out of the area.

old Belarusian flag, now used as the opposition flag in the rallies against Lukashenko

There have been eleven weeks of loud protests near the Prime Minister’s Residence and the Knesset. However, this was the first time seeing a protester near the Knesset with a Belarus flag.  His aim, which is for Israelis to pay attention to the situation in Belarus, worked – the large red and white flag got me to notice.

Jerusalem Israel Hebrew signs posted on street corner

As summer ends, new signs were up and it is time to support the Jerusalem Symphony.

At the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, there’s a  YEMEN Fest – מופע גרוב-ג’אז-פאנק

entrance of the Jerusalem Bible Lands Museum

There’s still time to book a tour in person or watch online at the Bible Lands Museum.

Jerusalem Yad Vashem exhibiit

After many months, Yad Vashem also announced it’s opening its doors at limited times.

Sacher Park new seating near the play equipment

The summertime weather was pleasant and  Jerusalem nights were cool. But now a heatwave has arrived.  It’s too hot for the play equipment or midday picnics in Gan Sacher. 

Jerusalem school year sign during coronavirus

School is to start on September 1, 2020. It’s going to be an interesting time for all.

The usual back to “Kita Aleph” – first-grade mega productions have been toned down. With COVID-19, it’s one parent, wearing a mask, holding the hand of a small child walking into the unknown new classroom. Capsules, masks, and moving online is the pandemic era new norm.

Wishing all students and teachers a good and healthy year!

Women soldiers in the Israel army

And now is the time for new Israeli recruits to the IDF to begin their army training.

Six years ago, Chazan Shai Abramson led the IDF Choir at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue.

As the Jewish holiday season with so many unknowns approaches is a good time to repeat the prayer for the Israel Defense Forces and all of Israel, and the world.

Stay safe. Stay well. Stay healthy.

Hope to see you sometime soon on the Jerusalem streets.