Merry Christmas from Jerusalem

Cross-posted from Jeffrey Goldberg

Last night, Christmas Eve (erev Christmas, as it is known in West Jerusalem), we spent Shabbat dinner with friends at the Inbal Hotel, which makes gefilte fish the old-fashioned way (by Arab cooks) and then we we headed to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Christian Quarter of the Old City for a beautiful and slightly bizarre Christmas service. Beautiful because the church is itself beautiful (soaring and simple, with clean lines, very much unlike the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is dark and dank and mysterious) and because the service opens with a gorgeous candle-lighting ceremony and is lifted-up by a choir singing “Silent Night” in German) and bizarre — in a good way, bizarre — because many of the visitors to the church last night were Israeli Jews, there to experience multicultural Jerualem, and the Germans who run the church made them feel thoroughly welcome (without proselytzing, of course), so welcome, in fact, that the minister read from Luke in Hebrew. Who woulda thunk it?

James Snyder, the director of the stunningly re-imagined and reinvigorated Israel Museum (which I will write about later) brought us to the service, and whispered to me — when I took note of all the various incongruities — that “the dirty little secret of Jerusalem is that it is a fully-functioning intercommunal city.” I think this is true. Yes, there are terrifically difficult issues (not least of which is the seizing of several Arab homes by Jewish settlers eager to make their presence felt in Arab neighborhoods), but this city is so much more complicated than news accounts would suggest. Earlier yesterday, I took one of the junior (and under-the-weather) Goldblogs to a local medical clinic for a strep test. The clinic, called Terem, is well-known in Jerusalem in part because it was started by a physician named David Applebaum, who was killed in the September 9, 2003 terrorist bombing of a cafe in the Germany Colony neighborhood, along with his daughter Naava, who was scheduled to get married the next day. The physician who saw my son at Terem, like many of the clinic’s physicians, is an Arab from East Jerusalem. In Terem, and at Hadassah Hospital, and the other hospitals in town, Jews treat Arabs, Arabs treat Jews, and no one thinks twice about it. No one who lives here, I mean. For visitors (even one, like myself, who once lived in Jerusalem), these sorts of commonplace facts of life — Germans praying in Hebrew, Arab physicians treating Jews in a clinic founded by a terror victim, and on, and on — can be astonishing. Merry Christmas.