Sunday 25 March 2018

Jerusalem - the people in the street

Jerusalem is one of the most stimulating cities in the world.  Important to three major world religions, not only does it have an extremely diverse resident population but it also attracts visitors from all over the world. The city also has hundreds of cafes, busy markets, street musicians and artists and a unique architectural backdrop that make it perfect for people watching and candid photography. This post includes some of favourite images from my recent visit.

Strolling with the strollers, Ben-Yehuda Street
Ben Yehuda Street in the city centre is packed with souvenir shops but still attracts many Jerusalemites who go there to eat, to meet friends or just to pass though this pedestrian thoroughfare on the way to somewhere else. I noticed the two Orthodox Jewish women in the picture above when I was sitting listening to a young woman playing the public piano at the bottom of the street. I like the way the mother on the left and the child on the right are looking at the camera whilst the other two look in the opposite direction.

And speaking of music, musicians can be found almost everywhere in Jerusalem. Abilities vary tremendously but I especially enjoyed the accordion playing of a young Japanese woman who performed a series of chansons near the steaming chairs in Jaffa Street and an Haredi singer and guitar player in Mamilla who gave superb performances of the Eagles' Hotel California and Marianne Faithfuls's As Tears Go By. Good as these two were the star of the show was another singer and guitar player at Shuk (market) Mahaneh Yehuda. Srugim is one of my all time favourite TV series, partly because of the excellent theme song originally recorded by Erez Lev Avi. One evening when walking in the market I thought the song was being played at one of the stalls. Turning on to Jaffa Road I realised that it was being performed live by a young man with a superb voice. A very excited crowd had gathered around him and unusually, waited to hear more songs once he had finished.

Japanese chansonnier on Jaffa Street
Haredi man performing "Hotel California" at Mamilla
This superb vocalist was performing outside Shuk Mahaneh Yehuda
Mahaneh Yehuda is one of my favourite places for candid street photography. It is full of people whose faces tell a story, sometimes sad, even distressing but always interesting. It is also fascinating to notice the differing styles of dress of - not necessarily related to religion or ethnicity but to their personal tastes. The weather was a little chilly and  many people wore scarves as protection against the cold. I liked the scarf worn by the man in the picture below but was also taken by his face where it was still possible to see traces of his younger self despite his age. He is quite stylish in an understated way. The man singing the Srugim song was also decked out in a thick scarf of orange, brown and red, complementing his thick brown jacket. 

My third scarf wearer was an older man I noticed several times. Dressed in what had once been a good quality coat and trousers he was a striking figure, usually upright and purposive despite his begging in the street. He sat a long way apart from the other beggars and I was able to take some candid pictures of him. The depth of the sadness in his face is astonishing and a reminder of how hard the lives of some of the people here have been.

Doing the shopping, Mahaneh Yehuda
Sadness, Mahaneh Yehuda
The market is also a place where unexpected things can happen. One morning a group of young people were making a film which involved a song and dance routine. Spotting one of the elderly herb sellers near the main entrance they asked him to sit in front of them whilst they performed. Not only did he oblige them but he stood up from his chair and did his own version of the dance routine, clapping and singing along with them before sitting down as soon as the song concluded and returning to selling his herbs. A star is born.

A star is born, Shuk Mahaneh Yehuda
Yusuf waiting for customers, Arab shuk in the Old City
Indian tourists visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Ethiopian Orthodox Christian women on the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
I first spotted Yusuf a couple of years ago. An elderly man with a bright welcoming smile, he is a tailor working in the Old City's shuk. This time I took an item of clothing to him for a simple repair. We chatted a little whilst he worked and he told me that he had been a tailor working in the city for more than 50 years. We spoke in Hebrew as I have only a few words of Arabic and he does not speak English. I asked him if there was much work these days. He said that there is very little work and that today, people prefer to buy something new rather than repair things. Work has become so scarce that he is considering closing his tiny shop. I was to hear a similar story from other tailors and also from a cobbler I met in Tel Aviv. My picture shows Yusuf waiting patiently for another customer. It is sad that these old skills, passed from one generation to another are now disappearing.

The old city is another great location for seeing people from many different backgrounds in close proximity to each other. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre receives visitors from all over the world. In the space of a few minutes it is not unusual to see groups of Russian, Ukrainian or Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, people from Latin America and Western Europe and possibly groups of Muslim tourists from India or Turkey. More recently there has been an increase in tourists from Asia and on this visit I saw several Chinese tour groups as well as Indonesians and Filipinos. In the late mornings, the courtyard in front of the church becomes full of people who enter through the narrow arch on one side or down a flight of steep relatively narrow steps opposite. It can become difficult to either enter or exit and also to get a clear shot or good pictures. Early morning is generally better whilst the quiet evening hours give the opportunity for low light photography.

During the time I spent in and around the courtyard, several Ethiopian groups visited. I noticed the mother and baby pictured below in the courtyard whilst the group of elegant more mature women were passing through the tourist shops that line the approach to the church. The group of Muslim tourists from India were striking due to the brightly coloured clothing of the women and the uniformly white suites worn by the men.

Cuddling up to mum, Church of the Holy Sepulchre
It takes ten minutes or less to walk from the Church to the Kotel in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Again people from all over the world and of all faiths come here for many different reasons. I was there twice during my recent stay, once early in the morning and again in the evening after Shabbat had "gone out". My evening visit was especially interesting since people were still dressed in their Shabbat best clothes. The four young men in the gold coloured kaftans were chatting after the conclusion of prayers and I was able to take a series of photos of them as they turned and changed expressions whilst each one spoke. The Kotel is the most sacred site in Judaism but this does not mean it is a quiet place, People talk, pray out loud and there is much movement which can make it hard to capture clear pictures.  I was especially please to capture the morning prayers image with the young man facing in the opposite direction to the others and the seated man poring over the sacred text.

After Shabbat, the Kotel
Morning prayers, the Kotel
Nowhere is very far from anywhere else in the Old City. The Damascus Gate in the Muslim quarter is a very short walk from the Kotel. This is one of the busiest parts of the shuk and the place where local people go to shop for food and household goods rather than the more tourist oriented businesses near the Church and the Jaffa Gate. I visited on Shabbat when the Jewish quarter is quiet and people flock to this part of the old city. The area close to the Gate is packed with small shops selling all kinds of provisions whilst there are also people who set out their goods on the ground, especially women selling various kinds of herbs and vegetables. The woman in the picture below is one such trader whilst the boy carrying the bread was making a delivery from nearby bakery.

Jerusalem, everywhere you look there is something interesting to see...and someone interesting too.

Selling herbs near the Damascus Gate
Bread delivery, Damascus Gate
Elderly man, Damascus Gate

You can see more pictures from Israel here

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