If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem

Despite the rumors being spread about Jerusalem, it is actually a place where a lot of wonderful people live and is also quite beautiful and certainly offers the most humane summer climate in this country.

A friend and fellow Haifa native, a famous, much-lauded photographer, told me he had been hearing lately that the city of our birth was experiencing a revival, and that its art scene was starting to create a buzz that reached as far as Atlit. "It's all just a bunch of propaganda spouted by party bigwigs," I told him in finest Mapai fashion - like my father's daughter, in other words.

Illustration Avi Ofer
Avi Ofer

"Periodically," I said, "they start toying with the media, sending out invitations for two days at a 'boutique' hotel, including seven nouvelle Arab cuisine meals in the newly spiffed up German Colony, a falafel lunch with some real elders from the wadi for a touch of authenticity, plus sushi and a selection of international delicacies for the sake of competition with Tel Aviv. There's also a little spa in the forest - all this in return for a promise to visit Haifa's city museum or a play at the municipal theater, and endure the mayor's opening remarks in a forgiving spirit."

As we have long since learned, the question is not whether publicists are really the ones running the whole show, but which publicist in particular is behind the latest venture. And while we're on the subject, I wouldn't mind getting some help from the publicists who have recently been burnishing Jerusalem's image. With the kind of motivation, imagination and flexibility they are applying to all sorts of pesky little facts, they could easily line me up a career as UN Secretary General (not only the first Jewish woman to get the job, but a divorcee and disabled IDF veteran to boot! ), the first female IDF chief of staff, or even an appointment (the one I really have my eye on, if you must know ) as president of an organization of Israelis of Western European descent.

I can no longer remain silent in the face of the concerted PR offensive undertaken by these publicists through a massive, yet clever, use of every type of media at their disposal. This is precisely my mission as a journalist: to expose the gap between the actual truth and the pretty raiments said publicists are draping over the newly-discovered city at the eastern end of Highway 1, the one known in all the electronic and print media as "Jerusalem - Not What You Thought" - a completely different city that bears no resemblance whatsoever to that other city known simply as "Jerusalem."

For months now, it has been impossible to open a national newspaper, local rag, women's weekly or glossy ad supplement, listen to the radio or watch the news - especially the dreadful morning shows - without hearing "Jerusalem - Not What You Thought." There is no way to avoid catching a glimpse of that oh-so-Tel Avivian reporter from Channel 2, or hearing Guy Pines' despotic fashion analysts repeating expressions that left Jerusalem with the last of the defectors for Tel Aviv. These professional Tel Avivians (who may well have been born in Shadmot Devora or Mazkeret Batya ) are certain such outmoded phrases are the key to unlocking the hearts and minds of "real" Jerusalemites - i.e., the peddlers in the city's Mahane Yehuda market.

Through them, they also discover "Mahane Yehuda - Not What You Thought," which consists not only of Beitar-loving pickle-sellers but also chic little cafes where you can even drink a latte macchiato, for god's sake. Like wow, I don't believe it - I mean like I was just totally flabbergasted when I learned of this from the fearless investigative journalist who, for the sake of this report, even adopted a Gil Hovav-ian accent. As everybody knows, everyone in Jerusalem speaks with a guttural het and ayin. Everyone, that is, aside from my children, their father and the dozens of friends I still have there.

But that's just the point. Apparently, we've never been sufficiently "authentic" for the mega-celebs who "go up to Jerusalem" to dine in a restaurant (rumor has it that one no longer gets shot at while passing the Castel, but still "it's an adventure" - according to one of the mega-celebs ). Now let me see, which one was it - the husband of the supermodel, or maybe the former Children's Channel host, or maybe they're the same person? Guy Pines would know.

We had all gathered at that same restaurant to celebrate a birthday. It has an oh-so-authentically-Jerusalem menu you could just die for, full of sassy witticisms designed to glorify the dishes on offer, such as "real son-of-a-bitch beef" (We passed on that, for the price indicated that this beef was the son of a real top-tier bitch, at the very least ). For authenticity's sake, the other dishes, all quite expensive, too, were served to us, as to all the other patrons, in paper bags or atop odd bits of junk that the restaurant's chef-owner had unearthed at the home of his grandmother, evidently a woman with an esoteric taste in household items.

The main dishes each arrived at a different time, the music was deafening and the air-conditioning was nothing more than an unsubstantiated rumor, while the temperature inside the restaurant hovered at around 40 degrees Celsius.

The marvels of this restaurant are not the only rumors being disseminated by those mega-publicists. Similar things could be said about the nightlife and the hip-hop and rock music scenes that have just been discovered by Tel Aviv media figures, while long-time Jerusalemites know that they've been around for ages. The height of this nonsense is all the fuss over the "updated Israel Museum," as opposed to the old one that was my children's regular amusement park, and which I loved for its wonderful Youth Wing and fantastic archaeology department.

The main difference is that unlike the previous incarnation, the "newly renovated" museum is still under renovation, but is already open to the public when there are still exposed electric wires about. And one could also ask - Who makes such a large museum with so few bathrooms and such a small cafeteria?

And all of this old news and the half-truths being spread about Jerusalem these days just seem to obscure the fact that Jerusalem is actually a place where a lot of wonderful people live and is also quite beautiful and certainly offers the most humane summer climate in this country - despite what all the publicists say about it.