By SIMONE COHEN SCOTT
When I call this piece ‘Adventures’, you have to realize who I am. I’m an elderly Jewish woman. Even before this happened to me though, I was not into bungee jumping, mountain climbing, deep sea diving (not even light scuba diving), canoe trips, stock car racing, or anything like that. Buying myself an apartment in Jerusalem is as adventurous as I’ve ever been. That’s a long story, and it’s not one that I’m going to tell today. But, I was gradually beginning to travel here more than once in twelve months, and I wanted to stop feeling like the meter is running and you have to keep doing something because otherwise money is going down the drain.
What would it be like to live right here? I would think - wherever in Israel I was. Looking out the windows of the tour buses, seeing people in the villages and countryside, wondering who they were and what they were doing, would set my imagination in motion. So I bit the bullet and bought. Now, for five months a year, (the winter months of course), I live here.
“What do you do when you’re in Jerusalem?” I am frequently asked. Well, here’s what: I explore! Hey, that sounds a little like an ‘adventurey’ activity, eh? In my meanderings I come across places not on tourist guide lists, though they ought to be. For instance, one day I was wandering along Helena HaMalka Street, contemplating its name. It is not named after Constantine’s mother, Saint Helena (circa. 300 CE), but an earlier Queen Helena (circa. 30 CE), ruler of an area partly in today’s Iraq. This Queen Helena and her two sons converted to Judaism and brought generous gifts to the 2nd Temple, as well as food during famine for the destitute Jewish community. Remains of her palace have been excavated in the City of David, and she also built a mausoleum that was named Tomb of the Kings. That is where she and her sons are believed to be now buried.
Anyway, I turned onto Shivtei Israel Street, which would bring me along behind City Hall, and on it I found the darlingest gift shop, named Yad LaKashish, meaning ‘lifeline for the old’. This has an interesting back story too. Early in the 1960s a small group of bookbinders were set up in a little shop, in an attempt to give them back a sense of usefulness. They began to do a lively business restoring old books, and very soon the skills of other destitute elderly were reawakened and put to use. This endeavour has grown to 10 workshops and 300 elderly artisans. Every item in the shop at the front of their refurbished building is an original, handmade item, lovingly crafted like your grandparents used to do, but with a modern flair. I now make an annual beeline to pick up one or a few gifts, and of course I take out-of-townees there. They’re always delighted and thank me profusely. Say, if interesting shopping isn’t an adventure, I don’t know what is!
Last year I was encouraged to go and see Canada House! What? There’s a Canada House in Jerusalem? Much to my surprise, it was next door to the Yad LaKashish gift shop. It seemed like a construction site, and I had trouble finding the entrance (always a challenge in Israel leading to many conversations with strangers). I was shown around inside and immediately fell in love with the concept. It was a state-of-the-art centre of every kind of supportive activity (except for an outdoor sports and entertainment area, which is what was going on behind the construction barrier). The building itself, formerly the Morasha District Community Centre was named Canada House at a dedication in 2013, and renovated in 2014. What struck me the most, besides the beauty of the design, was the unity of the vision, rising from what could have remained a seriously troubled community. (Consider this, that the street itself is the old Jordan occupation border, where Jews and Arabs lived cheek by jowl, battling from building to building during the years culminating in 1967, and afterwards, as the newspapers of the 1970s indicate.) Yet here they are, from the littlest children, through high school, waiting, needing encouragement in their gap year before the IDF experience, then, after IDF, on to career development, trauma assistance, working through issues in group and individual counseling, raising families in troubled times, evolving to seniors, who have passionately stayed, and many who have joined, this unique community. The vision is now so strengthened that it is reaching out to the youth and young adults of the entire city. How fitting that it is tucked in right behind City Hall.
This year I rushed back to see what had gone on behind the construction fence. A thousand words would take too much space, so instead I’m using pictures.