Tuesday in Jerusalem was the Memorial for the soldiers who died to bring independence to Israel. We went shopping at the large Jerusalem Mall to stay out of the crowds and any potential problems. At one point during the day, a siren rang out, and traffic stopped for a moment of silence. Later in the day we went to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. We so enjoyed the stained glass windows and the beautiful interior. We also met a nice guy at the door who invited us to come to a memorial service for the soldiers. We went that night and the Cantor, Chaim Adler, was amazing.
The Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Church was a site to behold. It was very ornate, and we spent quite some time there in meditation. Later we visited the Underground Prisoners Museum. This is where many Jewish Zionists who fought against the British were arrested. Near the very end, we became very emotional when we saw pictures of some of the young men who were held and executed here. After regaining our composure, we had a delightful lunch with some time for people watching, enjoyed the paintings at the Museum of Psalms, and then finished up later at the Shuk.
Because the Jerusalem bus system is rapidly evolving, the city has decided to defer issuing bus maps. My wife and I don’t have a printer at our apartment, so we can’t download any of the innumerable Egged bus schedules. But even if we could, there would still be lots of confusion.
First of all, the Egged trip planner website doesn’t include Anglicized names of some famous attractions. Unless we were aware that the Hebrew equivalent of the Mount of Olives is Har HaZeitim, we couldn’t determine how to get there by bus. Or, despite knowing, for example, that the Holocaust Museum’s Hebrew name is Yad Vashem, we were still befuddled because there are no references to either place name on the bus schedule. Only after scouring the internet did we learn that we have to go to Mt. Herzl first and then take a shuttle to the Yad Vashem.
Here are some other mind boggling conundrums: Often on the Egged website, the bus station stop has a different name from the one that indicates where the stop is located: Shvei Israel is the name of the bus stop at Safra Square, the municipal headquarters of West Jerusalem. Why not simplify things by calling the bus stop Safra Square? And then there are the arbitrary transposition of letters between a listing on the city map site and the Egged website: Hillel Street and Halel Street turn out to be the same street.
But even when my wife and I had accurate data, and we were at the right bus stop at the right time, we were once left stranded for a while. After waiting the required fifteen minutes for a bus to take us home from the Israel Museum, we spied one coming in our direction. When it stopped in front of us, we asked the bus driver if, as the schedule indicated, he was going to the central bus station where we needed to transfer to get home. Perplexed, he said that he didn’t know if he was going there. He then turned to one of the passengers, spoke some Hebrew to him, and then told us that the bus didn’t go to that spot. What a crock! We had to endure another fifteen minutes until a bus with that same route number approached. The driver said of course he would drop us off at the bus station—that was one of his routine stops.
Sure, our bus mishaps have at times been frustrating. And if my wife and I had only two weeks in Jerusalem, we’d regret that we had squandered such valuable time in our quixotic quest to configure and figure out the bus system. But we are here for six weeks. We can afford to lose a few hours a day waiting for a non-existent bus or riding one apparently to nowhere. And in the process, bus station or no bus station, we are getting more acquainted with one of Jerusalem’s unheralded labyrinths.
Chaim Adler, the chief cantor at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, has such a magnificent voice that I hate to miss one note of his chanting, from his falsetto riffs to his lower register exclamations. But last night, there were some roadblocks. At first, I heard two young girls across the aisle babbling to their father. I quickly sought a haven at the other side of the synagogue. For a while, I was able to concentrate on the cantorial singing. A man two seats from me was silent, except for a murmur or two while he was davening. But when he noticed that I had my English-Hebrew prayer book turned to the wrong page, he corrected me. I thanked him and continued to fixate on the cantor. My new-found friend, however, started to pump me for information about my life. I answered monosyllabically for a moment and then turned my whole body toward the cantor. I obviously did not want to be disturbed, but the man wouldn’t let go. He kept questioning me, and I kept mostly ignoring him. Why would he want to talk to me instead of paying attention to a cantor who had such a glorious voice? Even if the cantor were mediocre, shouldn’t the common decency to be quietly respectful prevail over kibitzing? The man, realizing that I was not going to humor him as much as he liked, seemed offended. He abruptly said Shabbat Shalom and left the synagogue mid-way in the service. Other people near me talked to one another intermittently as well. Where has all the reverence gone? How spoiled can they be? Don’t they appreciate the fact that they have the honor to be in the presence of one of the greatest cantors in the world?