Jerusalem… It’s Hard.

DSC_0684Israel is a hard place. As I fly over Turkey, Bucharest, Czech Republic, Germany, etc, (each hour a reminder that just getting there is hard– that my girl lives very far away) that is what runs through my head, over and over: Israel is a hard place. It’s something that hit me the first night I arrived there nearly two weeks ago, to visit my daughter, and a statement that played out many times with people I spoke with in Israelis– lifelong citizens, as well as those who are new there, Arab and Jew alike: Israel is a hard place… to live, to understand, to leave, to support, to deny.

Welcome to Israel! At the Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv

Welcome to Israel! At the Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv

To be clear: I didn’t “interview” people about this. This is something I noticed, living in Jerusalem for twelve days and traveling back and forth to Tel Aviv– different from my one other trip, two years ago, when I was very much a tourist (read here, here, and here). Then, I was free-falling with my girl. We explored places around the country, taking in the beauty, the history and the people– me a traveler and tourist, as my daughter showed me the country she loves and has embraced as a citizen. I spent two weeks, and I left besotted, bewitched– knowing I would return. This time I went to help my girl move from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, where she will join her fiancé. We were not playing around this time, and the experience was very different.

To be honest, I hesitate to even write about Israel or Jerusalem; the response to this topic can be very heated– as I learned in a Huffington Post piece. This is not about politics, or taking a position about the many complexities that Israel encompasses. The politics of the area is a topic that is too big and potentially volatile. I am not an expert, and my feelings on the topic are as complicated as the many and varied details that can be thrown from both sides. This is about one mother, an American, who visited her daughter (who is an Israel is citizen) there and got to see what others have been telling me for a long time: living there is hard.

Sometimes, you take a short cut... which is also a hill to climb

Sometimes, you take a short cut… which is also a hill to climb

I met friendly Israelis and unfriendly Israelis. I met and spoke with Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs in Jerusalem. My guess is that neither trusted me entirely and gave me only an inkling of what they really feel. But over and over the word “hard” was tossed into the mix. Getting around is hard work. I logged an average of 13,000 steps on my FitBit (a geeky pedometer that folks at home rely on like a watch… or oxygen) daily. I logged almost 26,000 one day (that’s nearly 13 miles of walking) and my least active day was 9,000+ steps. In Jerusalem, everything is up one hill and down another. Repeat. The hills are not small. As I got on the plane to go home, I realized that my calves and legs are sore; they’re also stronger than they were when I arrived.

(I didn’t lose any weight, because the food along the way is just too great to pass by. )

Getting around is harder because so many people don’t have cars. More Israelis have cars now than they ever have, I was told. However, with Israel’s average price for gas at $8.28 per gallon ($2.12/liter), it constitutes 8% of the average Israeli’s daily income to buy a gallon of fuel. (Jerusalem Post*) Israelis don’t drive as freely as Americans do. It’s very expensive; traffic is very challenging– in Jerusalem, all of those hills come with windy streets that are one way this way and blocked that way, and there’s a charge to park most places. Drivers are aggressive and fearless; driving there is not for the weak of heart. Fortunately, I learned to drive in the Boston area; I was not daunted when we rented a car to move my daughter’s things to Tel Aviv. Each time we drove from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv with another load, my daughter shook her head and said again, “Wow! This bus ride takes me at least 2 hours (each way) every time I make it.” We did it door-to-door (to the furthest Northern section of Tel Aviv, much further than the bus takes her) in under an hour, twice, and in no more than an hour other times– with frequent traffic, and waiting a very long time to get gas. Getting gas was hard too. Fortunately, we had a very fuel-efficient rental, and used barely ½ a tank for all of those trips. So while more people are driving, driving doesn’t always translate to easier.

And then sand storms come in off the desert... and everything is harder, and dirtier!

And then sand storms come in off the desert… and everything is harder, and dirtier!

I walked a lot while I was there. I enjoyed walking around Jerusalem; it’s an infinitely fascinating city, and walking is a great way to really see it– but walking is not easy either. Those aggressive drivers do not always stop for pedestrians, unless there is a very clear light forcing them. Inevitably, a driver stops for you, but it’s not a given; the pedestrian does not have the right of way, as so many people at home take for granted. It’s not uncommon for a driver to honk at you as you cross– a straight-forward nudge, admonishing pedestrians to not keep them waiting any longer than needed… as if I wasn’t already hurrying, lest another driver speed around the stopped driver. That happens a lot too. For three days, a sand storm came in off the desert and everything was covered in a thick, brown dirt coating. The air was brown; cars were covered in brown, and breathing was hard. As an asthmatic, it made all of that walking that much more challenging. The residents of Jerusalem simply plod on. If they’re struggling with air quality, I found few people openly complaining. Most acknowledged that it was unpleasant, but just something (else) they needed to work around.

Once you arrive someplace in Jerusalem, you need to be prepared to go through security many places– generally an armed guard and a metal detector (think city court in most US cities), at nearly any mall, historic landmark or crowded place. Going grocery shopping? Security. Entering the mall? Security. Entering the Old City (Western/Wailing Wall, Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulcher), lots and lots of security. If you aren’t prepared to open your bag and wait, to overlook the large gun… well, then it’s just hard… er.

Fresh produce: generally boundless and inexpensive...

Fresh produce: generally boundless and inexpensive…

Buying most things costs much more. We saw coffee, not great coffee mind you, for about $40 p/lb; we buy it for about $10 p/lb average, for good coffee at home. Fresh produce, is ironically, much less overall; good street food is inexpensive, but restaurants are not. I must have heard my daughter say “I don’t buy that, it’s too expensive,” or “that… is two hours’ wages,” many times each day. It was a sobering reminder of just how much I do in fact take for granted at home. Shopping for her new apartment was, yes, hard. Hard choices again and again: vacuums are a luxury; microwaves are a more important luxury; choices must be made.

So many structures in Jerusalem are built out of the classic “Jerusalem stone,” and insulation is not good in most homes. Heat is something you turn on for brief periods; it too is expensive. It was really cold, inside, nearly everywhere we went. Hot water is not available on demand in many homes. If I wanted a hot shower, I had to wait an hour for the water to heat up or set a timer for specific time later, and then I’d better not dally. Forgot to set the timer? No shower. Showing my daughter photos from a day in the city, she warned: “Your hot water is getting cold. If you want that shower…”

Eating, getting around, shopping, hygiene, driving, walking; it’s all hard in Jerusalem; it’s hard in much of Israel. It’s hard, in part, because it’s so different at home; we have it so much easier and so many of us don’t actually get that.

The people of Israel reflect the reality of these hardships. They are direct and to the point, a less prone to chitchat and pleasantries. What do you want? Get to the point?– they say with their eyes. Those eyes flash irritation with delays, inconveniences, or indecision– Or their abject acceptance that this too will be hard. Upon arriving at my Tel Aviv hotel, a cab driver yelled at me for three minutes, at 1AM, because I had no cash… as I’d said when I got to the cab stand at the airport… where I was told “A credit card is no problem.” It was– a problem. But these looks, the yelling, is not personal; a moment later, Israelis are wishing you boker tov, yom tov, erev tov, Shalom!– good morning, good day, good evening, Peace: hello/goodbye. This idea that it’s not personal was explained to me… over and over, as if I was hard of hearing.

This is all balanced by the beauty of this ancient land, these ancient places. The blossoming olive and almond trees; the food that is so good you are constantly thinking about your next great meal; the history; the blend of immigrants from all over the world, along with Orthodox and Secular; the colors, smells and sounds of the Arab and Jewish markets– existing side by side, despite conflict elsewhere– all of these elements lure you into Jerusalem, into Israel’s magic. The challenges are many; the complexities of living in Jerusalem in particular, and Israel as a whole, are endless. Have your bag open at security; don’t ask where things are; don’t stand staring at the fantastic menus too long; place your order and move along. Don’t take things personally, but be prepared to stand your ground. Don’t make things harder and Israel will do what it does best: get under your skin, cast its spell, and call you back… despite the hardships.

There are so many things that make the hardships worth the effort:


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GIPYHelp Me Reach My Goals! I’d love to see the Tales From the Motherland Facebook page reach 700 likes in 2015. Have you stopped by to spread some fairy dust? Follow me on Twitter, where I’m forced to be brief. Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. I love to hear what readers think. Honest, positive or constructive feedback is always welcome. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email, with no spam.  If you see ads on this page, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there.  ©2014  Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Beautiful places, Blog, Daily Observations, Israel, Life, Musings, My world, Tales From the Motherland, travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to Jerusalem… It’s Hard.

  1. Boker tov, yom tov, erev tov, and Shalom, Israel!

    But mostly Shalom.

    God be with you.

    A Texan


  2. I always thought traveling was an important part of my life. Only when you experience other places, people, culture and tradition, can you appreciate what you have or realize what you lack.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jgroeber says:

    Beautiful piece, Dawn. Glad you’re home safe and sound, and thank you for bringing us along with you. It’s never hard on our end when you share it with such bright, clear prose. Shalom. Namaste.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jen. It’s hard to sum up this trip, honestly. I had so many emotions and moments that hit me this time. I’m grateful for your kind words… I tend to find all the flaws in my own writing; thanks for the encouragement!


  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    This is fascinating to read, Dawn. I know so little about Israel other than what I hear on the news. To get such an inside look is wonderful. Makes me appreciate what we have here. It’s so easy to take what we have for granted.

    You rented a car and drove around there? Now I am REALLY impressed. I don’t think I’d dare.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s really amazing, Carrie, but what you see on the news is SO different than what is really happening over there. It’s very difficult to convey, or discuss, as the subject provokes such intense reactions. I’m much more careful now… but, truly, the reality and the version we see on the news are very different things.

      I would never drive in India, but Israel is not as challenging as you’d think… once you find your horn, and surrender to the chaos. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pat says:

    Excellent article, Dawn! Very insightful and, yes, we do take so much for granted.


  6. Yes, I agree with you. From security to every day– it’s not an easy place and for Americans and other non- Israeli born, a deliberate choice. Glad you were able to help with the move– and I find Tel Aviv an easier place than Jerusalem. Hope all well.


  7. storydivamg says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Dawn. I like to imagine myself more aware about the rest of the globe than most Americans, but as I haven’t been out of the country since I was 16, it can be easy for me to lose focus of hardships elsewhere. This is a good reminder.

    All my best,
    Marie Gail


    • Honestly, Marie Gail, I think most Americans know very little about what’s happening around the world– so kudos to you! Really. The news is so one sided, depending on the side you read/watch. It’s harder and harder to really understand what’s happening around the globe. There’s no doubt, that the Israel I know, from being there and from my daughter’s experiences living there… are very different than the ones I get from news sources. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and share your viewpoint; it’s much appreciated! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I appreciate reading this slice-of-life. As you so well know; talking about Israel is so fraught. Lucky daughter to have a Mom like you.


  9. Thank you for sharing your adventures. You’re a good Mom and I’m impressed with your daughter. What an incredibly strong woman you have raised.


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  11. Mike Lince says:

    Hearing about Israel via the media as opposed to learning about Israel through your words and seeing it through your eyes is so different. Thank you for sharing this all-to-rare glimpse into the the mystery and the complexity of this historic and often misunderstood nation.

    I can only imagine your emotional roller coaster as you bid adieu to your oldest child to head home. Once again you have woven happy and sad together into a must-read story in your incomparable style. – Mike


    • Thanks so much, Mike. If I ever get my book published, I’ll have you write the cover promotions! You always make me feel so good about my work, with your kind words and amazing encouragement. And yes, it was quite a roller coaster this time around… Not easy to leave, and yet I couldn’t wait to sleep in my own bed, and take a hot shower on demand! Call me spoiled… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Cathy Ulrich says:

    Years back, I studied energy healing with a wonderful Rabbi in Miami who spent several months a year in Israel – and he shared similar sentiments. This was in the early 90s and something that stuck with me was his feeling that Israel was a wonderful interesting country that was basically a war zone and one simply had to get used to the machine gun carrying soldiers on the streets. His impression was that it was a constant reminder of the dangers of living there. And yet, being an Orthodox Rabbi, it was his spiritual home and he loved it.

    Your post brings back memories of my times with my teacher – a no-nonsense guy with a great heart and spirit and in reading your words here, I think I understand him even better, Dawn. I’m glad you’re home safe and sound.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Cathy. It means a lot to me to be in that kind of company. No doubt Israel was an important place to your mentor, for very different reasons than for me… but, we both keep going back for love, and we are repelled for the challenges that place presents, on so many levels. Thanks so much for sharing your special story! I so appreciate it. xox


  13. hbksloss says:

    Interesting post on life in Israel. It must be both bitter and sweet to have your daughter there. Congratulations on her engagement. We have been talking about going there, if my husband can land a short term teaching gig/lecture series, but I think I need my ankle/leg fully healed for all the walking around.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Interesting and informative piece, Dawn. You always take such great pictures to go with the text. I have a much better idea of what Jerusalem is now. So well done. 🙂


  15. Oh man, I don’t know if I could ever go to Israel. There’s something dehumanizing, to me, about the way that piece of earth revolves around various “chosen peoples.” Maybe that’s the suspicion you felt. :/


    • I’m not sure what you mean about the dehumanizing element and “chosen people.” I didn’t have any suspicions, life is just hard in that part of the world, and we are accustomed to a much easier life in the US and much of Europe.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If someone believes that their birth, their race, their ethnicity, makes them specially entitled to a place, they by necessity have to dehumanize those who are not chosen.

        Israel, in my admittedly limited opinion, seems like a sort of hell where two “chosen peoples” try to ethnically cleanse each other and justifying it with god/history/whatever. It’s difficult for me to imagine something ickier.

        I actually wrote an article on the problems of “chosen people,” if you don’t mind my sharing.


        • I should be very clear, we do not agree on this. I don’t think that any “chosen people,” specifically the Jews, said that they were entitled to that place– the UN decided that, just after WWII in 1948, making Israel a country, and the “Jewish State.” Given the outcome of the Holocaust, Jews wanted a place that would be inherently safe, and a Jewish homeland. The land that became Israel had enormous historical importance to Jews all over the world, which is why the UN chose that place. However, Arabs who had lived in the previously British run Palestine, did not agree– understandably. It has been a subject of significant conflict and debate since. However, I believe that given their history, there is a reason that Israeli Jews are willing to fight to keep this land. Again it was a UN decision.

          Most Jews that I have known, have never referred to themselves as “the chosen people.” This is a biblical term that is thrown around by Jews and non-Jews.

          I absolutely do not see Israel as a hell, and my opinion is not limited. I have been there, my child is a citizen, and I have looked at this issue from many different perspectives. I would agree that is deeply complex and volatile.

          I don not see Jews or Israelis (Jewish Israelis nor Arab Israelis) there as determined to ethnically cleanse anyone, but rather determined to not give up this country. I am not aware of any country that does not feel the same way. Canada would no more hand over any part of Canada to the US, or Germans to Danes, or the Ukraine to Russia…

          I appreciate you taking the time to read this post, but I think we do not agree on some very significant points. Thank you for taking the time.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Agreement is not necessary for me and I don’t believe in villains. One of the most profound beliefs I have is that normal, morally good people are capable of almost anything, good or bad.

            So, if it’s not a chosen people thing, what is it? Any time you have a (insert ethnic group here) homeland, that kind of implies that (insert ethnic group here) is special within that country. Pakistan is a Muslim homeland, Israel is a Jewish homeland, Young Turk-era Turkey was a Turkish homeland.

            I could absolutely be wrong, by the way. The opinion I expressed came from reading Zionist stuff from the 1920s and 1930s, from reading Palestinian nationalist stuff from more recently and comparing this situation with other ethnic homelands.

            I empathize with both sides. You have one group of people who were the victims of a genocide and another group who don’t understand why they have to pay for somebody else’s holocaust.

            It’s terrible. It’s understandable. It’s also something I’d feel pretty icky getting involved in. I probably need to nut up and stop being squeamish.


            • I think that these views come from a very limited background. You will find many Israeli Jews who are strongly critical of Zionism. It has been a long time since 1920-30. The issues are much more complex and not simply about “chosen people” as you’ve labeled them. If you are to examine this issue, then you must look at the plight of First Nation tribes in North American. Are we not a “chosen people” who massacred those indigenous people and now continue to marginalize them? Would black citizens tell you they feel equal and protected under the law in the US or many European countries?

              Finally, in all of these comments/discussions, the fact that Jews have lived in these lands for all of history (pre-biblical) being massacred by Romans, Arabs and others. They did not end up there randomly… they too see it as returning to their homeland. This is not as simple as calling some people chosen and others not.


              • You hit it exactly. Manifest destiny was a belief that white Americans were chosen by God to take north America. Libya was a homeland, a return home, for freed slaves were they could make their own laws. Pakistan is the same thing. The Boers were actually very similar, as well.

                In all of these cases, the results are pretty terrible. Actually, out of all the ethnic homelands and lands for the chosen, Israel is probably the most successful and, in spite of the annual violence, probably one of the most peaceful.

                So in comparison with other ethnic homelands, Israel is a smashing success. However, compared with countries that don’t try to be Jewish/African/Muslim/Aryan/whatever, even the greatest of the chosen people’s homelands doesn’t look very nice.

                In other words, the idea of my city becoming a homeland for people of Spanish ancestry, were the government is privileging and protecting Spanishness over other groups- the idea of that happening makes me really uncomfortable, even though I’d be the beneficiary. I also think it would lock me in more or less eternal conflict with whoever wasn’t ethnically chosen.


                • I read your piece on this, and understand your points. I can agree with some of this, but I still feel that the waters have been muddied a bit when it comes to Israel and some other places. Again, thanks for reading my piece and for sharing your thoughts.

                  Liked by 1 person

  16. etomczyk says:

    So glad you got to visit Israel again, and Mazel Tov on your daughter’s engagement. I just got an email from our youngest two hours ago (she was born there) telling us she was going back to Israel in 2016 by hook or crook and asked us to come along. (We’ll see.) She is looking at the land through very romantic eyes–her father and I remember how hard it was to live there. The three hardest things: 1) everybody tells you “no problem” no matter what the situation, but of course there is usually a problem that no one is telling you about as a foreigner, 2) one has to ask a question three times, get three different opinions, and then make up one’s mind usually not choosing any of the previous answers because no one will admit to a foreigner that “they don’t know the answer,” 3) getting screamed at for thinking you were obeying the rules as per instructions, but obviously not (screamed at by a Rabbi, an old lady in a supermarket trying to cut in line, and a stranger in a restaurant who thought our table was too exuberant–it was personal on his part; he didn’t like Americans). But I do remember the food, and your pictures made me salivate. Welcome home.


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