Jerusalem is not the sort of place that sits still. Even during lockdown, the unique blend of people, cultures and politics means that there is always something completely astonishing happening on the streets or in the news.
Below are a few things that I have observed or found interesting over the past week:
- Orthodox rules – the Haredi population has always been known for doing things their own way, but this seems to be reaching new heights. First, the Orthodox schools continued to open throughout the lockdowns. Then there were reports of weddings with several hundred guests but last week the funeral of a prominent Rabbi brought thousands of mourners out into the streets in the most blatant and dangerous breach of the restrictions yet. Images of this pinged around the world. There have been regular protests against COVID restrictions in Haredi neighbourhoods like Mea She’arim and its not clear that the police or the Government know how to handle this. Walking through this area last Monday, I saw heavily armed Israeli military police retreating from a large crowd of protesting Haredi. I very much doubt the tactics would have been the same if it was a group of Palestinians protesting. So where will this unrest and power struggle take Israel next?
- Vaccine Politics – we got our first dose of the vaccine last week. This in itself was remarkable and full credit to Israel, it was well organised and super efficient. Before leaving, follow up appointments were booked in for 21 days. The really interesting thing however, is how the race to get vaccinated is starting to trail off, leaving the authorities to contemplate different carrot and stick approaches. This seems to be a matter for each municipality with reports suggesting that one town will offer tax rebates for residents who get vaccinated whilst another threatens to restrict municipality services to those who don’t get vaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine is not currently approved for under 16s and with a large and unknown quantity of anti-vaxxers, the fear is that COVID will continue to spread. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out amongst different geographic areas and across different religious groups.
- Surprising sprinters – Bored of trailing after our kids all the time on the daily park outings, a little exercise club has formed amongst the parents. On Wednesday we did sprint training in a local park. If this sounds impressive, picture instead a group of middle-aged people barely able to remember how to move their arms and legs together in a coordinated fashion. I speak for myself here! But our ambitions were noble. The thing that was surprising and wonderful was that Palestinian women in their full-length coats, headscarves and inappropriate footwear (think: low heeled boots) started joining in. First, they just wanted to do a few leg stretches but before we knew it they were organising their own races and sprinting full pelt up the track. Our honour was only preserved because we didn’t go head-to-head with them. There is much to divide people in Jerusalem, but it is great that just moving your body can be a unifying thing!
- Tel Aviv is another planet – if you live here you, you already know this but wow, after being stuck in Jerusalem for endless stretches of time you might have forgotten just HOW different it is. On our recent vaccine trip which included a legitimate walk along the beach promenade, the first thing that struck me was the exercise wear. Even at the start of February t-shirts and tops seemed superfluous with almost every woman I saw wearing just a sports bra and leggings. In Jerusalem, colour is considered racy! In Tel Aviv everyone just does their thing. For one older woman, probably in her 60s, that meant bringing a speaker down to the promenade and doing full on dance routines. It wasn’t a performance. It was her daily exercise and in Tel Aviv this didn’t raise an eyebrow. I used to think that Edinburgh and Glasgow had very different personalities for cities just 40 miles apart, but Tel Aviv and Jerusalem give this a whole new meaning!
- Spring has sprung – It is Spring in Jerusalem already. It seems crazy as winter only lasted about a fortnight, but the walnut trees are in bloom, red poppies and other wildflowers are dotting up everywhere and some days are hitting 20 degrees again. Last Thursday however the weather in Tel Aviv was 23 degrees, yet driving back to Jerusalem two hours later large hail stones pelted the car angrily. The sky then turned dark like dusk and by the time we arrived in Jerusalem, a dramatic thunder and lightning storm was underway, and the temperature dial was down to 9 degrees. It truly was four seasons in a day so maybe winter has a bit more in store for us yet.
On Sunday, lockdown 3 started lifting despite daily infection rates being just as high as they were when it was imposed. For most people that meant the chance to stretch our wings again beyond the 1km lockdown confines as we keep our fingers crossed for a return of schools soon. We visited Battir on Sunday and it was a beautiful green oasis of calm.
There is so much to see around every corner in this completely bizarre place that with the Spring air behind us, it is a breath of fresh air for the lungs and the soul to be outdoors seeing the seeing and doing the doing again.