Antiquity vs. Reality TV: Kim and Kanye Hit the Holy City

Despite their huge global Twitter following, the celeb duo Kardashian and West left some Jerusalemites underwhelmed.

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Kim Kardashian and her husband, rapper Kanye West, on the grounds of the Cathedral of Saint James in Jerusalem's Old City April 13, 2015.
Kim Kardashian and her husband, rapper Kanye West, on the grounds of the Cathedral of Saint James in Jerusalem's Old City April 13, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Five paparazzi stood outside Jerusalem’s David’s Citadel Hotel on Monday, awaiting the arrival of reality television superstar Kim Kardashian and her famous singer-designer husband, Kanye West. None of the photographers had yet spotted their entourage, which also included the couple’s 22-month-old daughter, North, and Kardashian’s sister Khloe.

Some of those waiting commented that the high-profile American visitors were going to Jerusalem's Old City, and one mentioned a seaside apartment that Khloe was buying in Tel Aviv, but none of them sounded particularly excited. The same was true for the security guard at the entrance to the hotel, who was barring anyone who was not a guest from going inside.

One Jerusalem resident, Sara Hai, who was passing by, waited along with the paparazzi to see whether Kardashian would appear and say hello to those outside.

“She’s famous for nothing. She’s not a singer and not an actress,” said Hai, but she was excited nonetheless. And Hai was even familiar with particulars about the family and the star of their reality show, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” about their father, Robert, who died in 2003 and gained prominence as the lawyer and personal friend of football star O.J. Simpson, and about other relatives who appeared on the show, which has been on the air since 2007. The show transformed the Kardashian family into a television empire and has spawned spin-offs.

“They are living it up,” Hai said. “They’ve had it lucky.”

Since David's Citadel was closed to the media, most of the press was waiting for the celebrities' entourage in the Old City, where rumors circulated that, like all famous foreign tourists, the visitors would go to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the Western Wall Plaza, there were families celebrating bar mitzvahs and American Jewish tourists who had not heard about the imminent arrival and were excited by the news.

Surprisingly, almost everyone seemed to know who Kim and Kanye were, but no one could explain why the Kardashian family was famous. Nevertheless, the day provided an usual encounter between the historical and emotional setting of the Old City, and the world of reality show stardom. Admittedly some people, however, had other concerns and couldn’t care less about the superstars, even if the West and Kardashian duo does have tens of millions of Twitter followers.

The quest for scraps of information about the famous visitors led to the Armenian Quarter: There it became clear that the real aim of the visit was the baptism of Kim and Kanye’s almost-2-year-old daughter, North. If the visit provided any extra, added value, it was in highlighting this quarter and its spacious 12th-century Cathedral of St. James, a spot that most Old City tourists never visit.

But on Monday, things were bustling there, even on the street leading to the cathedral. Groups of young people rushed toward it, along with police officers, leaving Border Police and a number of tourists wondering what was going on. Paparazzi and TV crews had already positioned themselves outside the church, along with people with selfie sticks and teenage girls who screamed every time a luxury car went by.

“It’s good they’re coming,” said an older woman who wasn’t really familiar with the celebrity family. “I assume it’s because of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide,” she added, referring to the World War I-era massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire.

The mass killing began on April 24, 1915, when members of the Young Turks movement arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and leaders in Istanbul. Most of the estimates put the ultimate Armenian death toll in the succeeding three years at between one million, and one-and-a-half million.

Good Armenian PR

But most of the young Armenians standing outside the cathedral had other things on their mind. One of them, George, who lives in that quarter, was holding the famous Vogue Magazine cover from last year featuring Kim and Kanye, which he was hoping to get autographed. George said that what interested him was that Kim was of Armenian background and was famous.

"It’s good that they came,” said George, as he patiently waited with dozens of others who congregated outside St. James. “Maybe they will increase awareness of the Armenians who live here, and help us because of the fact that they are so famous.”

“She’s a historic fashion icon,” a young Armenian woman who lives in Jerusalem said of Kardashian. “I’m proud of her because she increases all the awareness of the Armenian genocide and of Armenians in general around the world. I am sure her father was proud of her.”

The Jerusalemite and her girlfriends had been anticipating the visit since rumors surfaced in Armenia, where the famous couple was visiting at the time – to the effect that Kim and Kanye would indeed be coming to Israel. “It’s a small community, and every little rumor gets here quickly, so we knew they were arriving and we came.”

Things got increasingly lively as the day progressed. There was one rumor that the baptism would take place at 3:30 P.M. Another had it that the visitors would go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre first, but the police began clearing the courtyard of the Armenian church and several clergymen volunteered that attendance at the baptism would be limited to senior Armenian community representatives and to the family.

At that point, the narrow street leading to the cathedral became clogged with people, police cars, paparazzi and fans who anxiously awaited the arrival of the VIP entourage. A convey of cars stopped at the entrance to the church as the crowd roared. Young girls yelled: “Kim! Kim!” Photographers and teenage boys pressed forward to document the visit by the famous couple.

Khloe emerged from a car first, followed by Kim with North, and then Kanye, dressed in white. They quickly disappeared into cathedral to gasps from the crowd that included “Oh my God.” (And if that was not appropriate to Jerusalem, where would it be?). The couple’s bodyguard then closed the gate.

A thinning crowd waited in boredom for the couple to emerge again, and the cold Jerusalem weather put a damper on the excitement as well. Several Border Policemen outside still could not understand why people were so interested in the celebs inside. A female Armenian tourist waited outside impassively, wondering why she had not been allowed inside St. James after coming from so far away, and puzzling over Kim Kardashian, whom she had heard about only once.

As the traffic began to ease up, it seemed that yet another day in Jerusalem was drawing to a close. One cab driver who asked what all the commotion was about mused: “What do I care? My very own fashion model is waiting for me at home.”

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