We live about an 8 minute walk from Jerusalem’s Old City (the Jaffa Gate entrance). To the boys, it has been a place they often only begrudgingly go – to get their haircuts, to buy coffee beans, to eat some falafel, or do some birthday shopping. Telling them “we are going to run to the Old City” elicits the same types of reactions as when I was told as a kid we were going grocery shopping. I always respond that some day they will appreciate that they “had” to go there so often. I guess somewhere along the way, the message sank in as Dominic came home from school this week with the below:
With just a couple weeks left in Jerusalem, it is time for our ritual “taking stock.” We have the opportunity in this life we have chosen to see and experience some amazing things. But amazing can be good or bad – and some places we have liked more than others. Jerusalem we have loved. So without further ado, some of things that have made this place so special to us:
1. Snow – building snowmen outside the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City and watching kids throw snowballs, rather than stones, at each other for a change.
2. Daybreak – watching the sunrise out our bedroom window every.single.day over the Old City and Dormition Abbey, where the Last Supper is thought to have taken place.
3. Food – Fresh and wonderful mediterranean food in the form of olives, citrus, hummus, goat cheese, and so much more.
4. Legs – Walking anywhere and everywhere, often leaving our car sitting for weeks at a time (or in Jenny’s case – a whole tour).
5. My office – a 100 year old mansion with Tuscan-like views out two walls of windows. Long hours are totally ok when this is the setting.
6. Dads – the boys very first friends, from their time at the YMCA, all turned out to have work-at-home/stay-at-home dads that have remained Tony’s close friends, still meeting twice a week over the two years since the gang went their own directions.
7. Neighbors – the kind you borrow flour from, spend holidays with, and yell for from the balcony after a bad day. The kind that watch your kids in a pinch and whose apartment seems like the other half of your own.
8. The Bible – seeing the amazement on the boys faces when they realize a particular story being told at church is about a place they know.
9. Rooftops – Jerusalem isn’t call the City of Gold for nothing and nowhere is it more clear why than from the Old City ramparts. Or restaurant roofs. Or the Austrian Hospice.
10. Beaches – I would consider us mountain people, yet being less than an hour from the water has been wonderful and watching the boys learn to master it has been wonderful.
11. Weather – As I write this, it is almost May in the Middle East and not even 60 degrees. That is weird. What isn’t is the need for a light sweater during July evenings – or February mornings.
12. Friends – Some of the best friends of our Foreign Service years were found at this post. We have been beyond lucky to share these years with amazing people.
13. Colleagues – More of the same as above. Jerusalem consistently attracts some of the best in the business. It has been a genuine joy coming to work with some amazing colleagues.
14. The International Community – We’ve been nowhere else that there has been such a shared sense of purpose among the various diplomatic organizations and NGOs. One of the highlights of each week was dinner at Augusta Victoria on the Mount of Olives with the German and broader international community.
15. The Green Line – Jerusalem is truly a tale of two cities. We love leaving our almost European corner of the city and driving across an invisible line on a busy street that brings us to the heart of the Middle East. Even better would be a true melding of the two, but that is now in the hands of others…
You can feel the move coming. The boys are demonstrating lots of excitement, even as their emotions have been spiraling out of control more regularly. Unexplained tummy aches, last minute pleas for “just one more birthday here,” with these friends. While the below was written by a child of the military, it sums up the not always easy journey of Foreign Service kids, too. Be gentle when you see them…
I admit, we have been less than stellar about getting the boys to mass on a regular basis (although in fairness, this year has been a little better). They actually have a great interest in the bible and great curiosity about all of the things in it that took place right on our doorstep. As such, we felt it would be really inexcusable to not participate in the Easter traditions here once before we go (in case anyone is wondering why not previous years, we were in the US in 2013 and in Petra/Wadi Rum last year).
First stop – at least for Tony – was the Good Friday Way of the Cross procession. Beginning in the Garden of Gethsamene, it recreates Jesus’ journey to Calvary (Golgotha), the site of the crucifixion, found within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (first constructed in the fourth century by Constantine the Great). For this event, the entrances to the Old City are shut down to manage the crowds and only by dashing through the Old City and then around its perimeter was he able to squeeze his way in via the last open entrance.
On Easter Sunday, we went to Mass in the morning, opting for the “normal” English church here rather than braving the three hour Latin mass at Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection.
After a traditional Easter brunch of falafel, hummus, and fattoush at a favorite Old City dive, we did head into the chaos. Despite the location, there was not much holy or spiritual about the hoards of people shoving children to make their to the churches many notable corners. We did make it up to Golgotha, but saved having the boys touch the “Rock of Calvary” for another, quieter visit.They did manage to get a few fingers on the slab of stone Jesus’ body is believed to have rested on as he was prepared for burial. The site of the tomb/resurrection was blocked for a procession that we watched for a few minutes before escaping.
Since September, there have been no more lazy Saturday mornings for us! The boys participate in the Jerusalem International Schools Football (Soccer) league and spend two hours each weekend practicing. The experience has been a great one for both of them developing not only their athletic skills, but their sense of what it means to be part of a team. For our part, we wanted them to be comfortable enough with soccer that they could play pick-up games with their friends in Germany, where soccer is just a part of life. Dominic’s confidence in sports has risen dramatically (it is possible he inherited his athletic skills from his mother) and Ali’s focus has done the same. The jury is still out as to whether they will keep playing as part of a team in Germany – right now tennis and, for Dominic, swimming are preferred. Regardless, they have enjoyed it. Below are a few scenes from those mornings. Jenny walks the two and a half miles to the soccer field in East Jerusalem. Sometimes Ali walks back with her, stopping at the local juice stand along the way.
We are getting really excited about our next adventure in Munich, Germany. In preparation, we need to make some social media changes and hope to increasingly use this blog to share details of our comings and goings and livings with our closest family and friends. We’ll still have Facebook, but just need to be a bit more circumspect about what we post there. At some point soon, that probably means changing this to a password-protected site. We’ll keep you posted.
With just 2 and a half months to go, and spring in the air, we have been dragging ourselves away from couches and iPads and Wii in order to fit in a few last adventures. Yesterday we headed back to the Sea of Galilee – site of the loaves and fishes and the sermon on the mount – to take in some spectacular scenery resulting from a rainy winter. We hadn’t been back since we went with Becca two years ago. It was a long drive, but the boys had fun with some mini-hikes and eating fishing and calamari.
It is hard to believe it has been two years since we last updated this. Life intervened and for a time I wasn’t in a place or a mood to put my reflections into words on a screen. And for even more of a time, life intervened in all of the best ways possible and taking time out to focus on a blog simply wasn’t a priority. So here we are again. As always seems to be the case in our nomadic lifestyle, the next big change is already on the horizon and has been for some time. As hard as it is not to be looking to the future, we are trying hard to focus on where we are now. Jerusalem has been a good and happy home for us, which is ironic given the chaos and hate that are seemingly all around. We have been through two wars here and seen the city become even more divided than it was when we arrived. Nonetheless, it is an amazing place. The boys – now in 1st grade and kindergarten – have kept up the great friendships that made in their first year here and made new ones as they switched schools. It won’t be easy leave and, yet, we are exhausted by what goes on around us and know it is time.