A Night in Jerusalem

by Brian on July 12, 2007

in Only in Israel

This photo and other great ones like it can be found on the Jerusalem Shots website. This image is from the photographer RomKri. Click here for more.

I was in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago to attend the first ever Israeli “Blogference,” – a blogging convention held at the Herzeliya Interdisciplinary Center. After the conference, I was invited to join a group of American bloggers who had come to Israel for the event for a dinner at a restaurant situated right on the Tel Aviv boardwalk. For a denizen of slightly backwater Jerusalem, the boardwalk is a real an eye opener, jammed wall to wall with people, strolling, jogging and walking their dogs. Every cafe was packed and pulsating music and neon filled the muggy night air.

Over the course of the conversation with the bloggers at dinner it transpired that the organization responsible for bringing the group to Israel had nixed a proposal for the group to spend a night in Jerusalem. The city’s nightlife, they said, couldn’t hold a candle to the disco and nightclub hopping the that had been planned for the group in Tel Aviv -  important given that one goal of the trip was to show the U.S. visitors a “different” Israel than the one guidebook-laden tourists typically see.

To which I cry: no fair. Jerusalem may be a sleepy sister to lively Tel Aviv, but our nocturnal activities are just as happening. And while we may not have the boardwalk, a stroll through southern Jerusalem on a warm summer night, the kind when even shirtsleeves seem too much but the air is dry so you’re comfortable and free, would prove to anyone that Jerusalem possesses charms even Tel Aviv can’t touch.

And so, earlier this week, my wife Jody and I set out from our house in Baka to stroll along Emek Refaim, the trendy café-laden boulevard that is a short five minute walk from our home. Any claim that Jerusalem is a ghost town, still adversely affected by the violence that began in 2000, is swiftly swept away after just a minute on the Emek: the streets are overflowing just like in Tel Aviv. In places you have to slip single file to pass the throngs waiting for a table at Caffit or Burger’s Bar. The last count of 42 restaurants on the strip (see my article here) has swollen by another couple in recent weeks with the addition of Tarantino’s, a fast food establishment offering “Entrecote steak in a burrito,” and Rivila’s, a non-kosher bistro with low lights and bedroom eyes.

Jody and I strolled hand in hand along Emek Refaim, past the “Shirechov” posters of street poetry affixed every few blocks, until we reached our ultimate destination at the northern end of the street: the newly refurbished Cinemateque, opened after a year in exile at the Binyamei Ha’uma International Convention Center while renovations were underway. The Cinemateque is one of Jerusalem’s cultural jewels: often the only place to catch an offbeat, non-commercial flick that doesn’t have “II” or “the Third” appended to its name.

The building itself is a treasure, built entirely out of Jerusalem stone with sensual arches and a location to die for, in a valley overlooking the walls of the Old City which at night are lit up by spotlights bathing them in soothing pastel colors. The Cinemateque’s NIS 15 million ($3.5 million) renovation – which will continue for another year – has already resulted in a state-of-the-art facility with new theaters, soft carpets and comfortable chairs complementing its lovely Jerusalem design.

The Cinemateque opened in 1981, the fulfillment of a dream by Wim and Lia van Leer who managed to convince then-mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek that it was just what the capital needed. Three years later the Cinemateque launched an international Film Festival that continues to this day, this week entering its 24th year.

Jody and I didn’t opt to see a movie but instead headed for the newly opened terrace – a large grassy area with fabric-covered lawn chairs facing the spectacular view. We lay out, continuing to hold hands (it was one of those kind of evenings), reflecting on the unique benefits of living in such a remarkable city, so different than Tel Aviv and yet so vibrant and alive.

After a while, we headed up to the Cinemateque’s entrance plaza where a band was playing to a crowd that consisted of exiting theatergoers, a rowdy group of American students and several overly ecstatic band groupies. The music from “Radio Salamandra” – a mix between the Israeli band Tipex and hip hop New Yorkers Balkan Beat Box –wasn’t all that good, unfortunately, but the rock and roll on a warm summer’s night with the spectacular backdrop of the Old City kept us more than satisfied.

As we left the Cinemateque, we decided to stop in at the nearby Menachem Begin Heritage Center which had an exhibit featuring the work of graduates of the Emunah College’s graphic arts program in its foyer. One section in particular caught our eye: a collection of 12 wall sized black and white portraits called “Rabbis’ Daughters.” The girls were each posed looking right into the camera, wearing a variety of clothes reflecting their different political and religious sensibilities, from funky Indian inspired attire to long skirts and sleeves.

An accompanying booklet could only have been published in Israel, providing snippets you don’t normally find in a typical Facebook-style catalog. Along with their age, home town and favorite activities, we also learned, for example, whether the Rabbis’ daughters wore pants or not, whether they planned to cover their hair after they got married, and whether they would touch members of the opposite sex.

The night complete, we headed home, stopping briefly to consider a cone at the newly opened Aldo and Max Brenner gelato and gourmet chocolate emporium on Emek Refaim. We decided to pass; the hour was late and the night was already full without our tummies needing to be similarly satiated.

Jerusalem may not have the same level of nightlife that Tel Aviv offers. But when it comes to romantic walks, we are one of a kind.

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