Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Outsider

"Olden times cars"
Jerusalem March: as snapped by a 3yo

IT'S BEEN an odd week in Jerusalem. The never-ending Sukkot holiday - there are still two days left, and even then Shabbat looms on Friday night - has turned the city into one big party yet I've been left feeling my ticket got lost in the post.

It's mainly the Jewishness, which all the Sukkot-related customs has underlined since the festival began almost a week ago. It's impossible to step outside and not be reminded about the many ways I don't belong. And I'm not talking about one of the orthodox areas; even the local playgrounds, rich in expats, only serve to underline my outsider status simply because my reasons for being here differ so much from everyone else's. Take the American grandma who deigned to chat to me: her family come every year for Sukkot because her three sons all attended "yeshivas" (religious schools) in Jerusalem.

The influx of tens of thousands of Americans has exacerbated the weirdness: in the city centre, it's more common to hear a Yankee accent than someone speaking Hebrew. What with the vast American presence and Sukkot trappings - the shelters, the orthodox dress code, the constant visits to the temple, palm leaves and lemons in hand - I swear the city resembles a living theme park. Or one of those living history museums that the Americans are so good at, like the one in Plymouth, MA, where the Pilgrim fathers wander round in full 17th century garb. It's an usual town where men in giant busbys and satin frock coats outnumber those in jeans and trainers. By some degree.

The prisoner swap has added to the undercurrent of bizarre. It isn't often the Israelis and Palestinians have cause for concurrent celebrations but this is one of them.

Despite so much going on around us, it's been hard to find something to join in with. But I thought I'd managed today. The Jerusalem March is a day-long affair that starts with various groups hiking different routes around the city and culminates with the roads in the centre shutting down for a parade. We skipped the hike - I figured I walk most of the city most days anyway - but turned out for the parade, which kicked off a couple of streets from our flat outside the YMCA. It started well: two 1940s Army jeeps, several "olden times" cars, including one "just like the speedy car" he lost the day before (oops), three rubbish trucks (oh, the joy!), two fire engines, and a mini flotilla of motorbikes.

The marching soldiers weren't bad, although luckily Louis isn't the type to get excited by the guns. But then things went downhill. The parade's theme was something about welcoming foreign tourists - presumably to fleece them by charging through the nose for everything - so the procession comprised various different nationality OAPs waving their country's flag and banners praising God while tapping tambourines and shouting how much they love Israel. (Mini point of interest: massive Finnish contingent, small German one.) No wonder Louis wanted to retreat to the Y playground. I'm looking forward to everything getting back to normal, whatever that is, next week.

No comments: