Even when you try to escape Jerusalem’s religious underpinnings, you can’t completely. For example, you can take a walk through Mamilla, a lively neighborhood in the new part of the city, and suddenly you come upon old Muslim graves that appear uncared for and utterly disregarded.
Or you pass through a courtyard and see an Armenian priest snapping pics of a cat.
Or you stroll by a traffic circle and see this.
Modern Jerusalem does have some beautiful secular bits, like the art deco YMCA building.
And fun, hip neighborhoods that bustle with activity.
But no matter where you go in Jerusalem, religious faith – and the ways people express it – is ubiquitous.
Of course, many people in Jerusalem aren’t trying to avoid religion. They want to embrace it. Even in death.
Though tourists are mostly shielded from the religious and political tensions, there are occasional reminders.
But we found the people of Jerusalem very friendly and welcoming, as they were throughout our time in Israel (and Jordan, for that matter). As for the food in Jerusalem, you can find umpteen variations of what I would call Middle Eastern cuisine – lots of lamb and chicken, cucumbers and tomatoes, hummus and eggplant, local olives, and all kinds of wonderful breads and pastries. Other cuisines such as Italian, Japanese, and – ugh – “American” are widely available too. Wine seems to be the preferred alcoholic beverage, though unsurprisingly, you see lots of people enjoying a meal without any alcohol at all.
Did I mention that lamb is big in Jerusalem?
I think it’s possible to spend time in Jerusalem and pay almost no attention to the city’s holy history. After all, some people come here purely for business, and others arrive to visit with family or friends. In many ways, Jerusalem is not all that different from many places we’ve been. There are banks and hospitals and buses and all that ordinary stuff.
But there’s also lots of, well, not so ordinary stuff. And the more of it you encounter, the more you come to understand that Jerusalem is also very different from anywhere else you’ve ever been.