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Diversity and Discoveries
Rembrandt's Jeremiah
by Judy Lash Balint
November 26, 2006

Every now and then I'm amazed by the sheer diversity of the people I meet and the places I discover here in Jerusalem. Even after nine years of living here there are new corners to be explored, and a constant flow of fascinating people to encounter.

This morning I had arranged to meet a fellow freelance writer at his downtown Jerusalem home to kibitz and compare notes about assignments and editors. We basked in the winter sunshine as we shmoozed on the tiny balcony of his place that's right next to the Tmol Shilshom bookstore and cafe and overlooks the pedestrian Rivlin Street. After a while, as hunger set in we trotted off on a 10 minute walk to eastern Jerusalem for a bite of the best knafe in town at the oddly-named Eiffel Tower Cafe across the street from Damascus Gate.

On the way back, Gil lead me down a narrow alley behind the eastern Jerusalem bus station to a cave hewn out of the bedrock that makes up much of this part of Jerusalem that lies just north of the Old City walls.

Today the cave is used as a banana warehouse and it's filled with stacks of plastic banana crates and a busy line of trucks loading and unloading the fruit from the Jordan Valley.

But tradition has it that this is Jeremiah's Grotto, the prison where the prophet in the year 605 BCE wrote his Lamentations on the forthcoming fall of Jerusalem, which actually took place in 587 B.C. (Jeremiah 38,6). There's no sign or plaque marking the spot, and the workers were not too enthused by our visit. I doubt the cave is on the itinerary of any Israeli tour guides...

Speaking of tourists, I've met a number of interesting visitors this week. I had the opportunity to address a group of potential olim who are on a pilot trip organized by the Tehilla organization that promotes religious aliya. They were a diverse group that included the head of an Illinois Chamber of Commerce; a young doctor and his family; a retired army man and a few single parents. They're all anxious to learn as much as they can about how to make one of the most momentous changes of their lives.

I shared Friday night dinner with close friends who were hosting a visiting relative who had never been in Israel before. The woman, who is in her 70s doesn't speak or read Hebrew, yet when we gave her a benscher with transliterated Hebrew, we were astonished as she enthusiastically joined in and sang along as we worked our way through almost every song in the booklet.

A chance encounter on a bus into town resulted in a stimulating conversation with a man who had fought in every war until last summer's Hezbollah war. He had a simple prescription for our current troubles--replace the cabinet with a council of veteran reservists from the ranks. No generals he emphasized, just plain soldiers. "They'll know what to do..."

Every Jerusalemite can tell similar stories about the people we meet and the places we get to in this eye of the storm city.

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