Seeing another Jerusalem, off the beaten tracks
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Seeing another Jerusalem, off the beaten tracks

Dreamers, teachers, carob trees, and community gardens are all part of the five-hour Mekudeshet festival treks through the capital

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem soccer team fan and social worker Gil Hochstein spoke passionately about what the fan-owned team does for its cadre of owners during a Mekudehshet festival walking tour Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem soccer team fan and social worker Gil Hochstein spoke passionately about what the fan-owned team does for its cadre of owners during a Mekudehshet festival walking tour Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Jerusalem’s Park HaMesila, the well-trod walking and bicycle path that follows the route of the Turkish-era train tracks, is well-known among local residents.

They use it as a place to stroll, as a path that leads to the First Station, the popular complex of restaurants and shops housed in the former train station, or as a route for running and biking through the city.

When used during the three-week Mekudeshet Festival as one of the so-called “Journeys on the seamline between art and reality” — five-hour walks (or rides) around different parts of the city — the wooden path of the Mesila became a place to discover new ideas and views, a route for examining where the city’s communities intersect, and where they separate.

Like all of the Mekudeshet events, the tours are excruciatingly well-planned and executed, with a cadre of staff who take care of every detail, whether setting up glasses of fresh orange juice at the start of the walk (as well as lemon-flavored water later on, followed by icy fruit popsicles and platters of raw peanuts), helping set up earphones and MP3 players set to the voice of the narrator who accompanies participants on each journey, or handing out woven bags filled with a notebook, pen, and cellophane bag filled with a small granola cookie and some almonds and raisins to stave off hunger.

A walk on Friday, September 8 along Park HaMesila was narrated by Tzurit Yair, a Jerusalemite who lives along the park, and who told her own story, while also introducing songs and speakers who met the group along their journey.

A group of Mekudeshet journey participants strolling down the Mesila path for a five-hour walk (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“When I walk,” said Yair, “I’m a visitor in the world.”

The first speaker was Doron Ish Shalom, a MassChallenge accelerator manager and trained architect who spoke to the group under a massive carob tree in the dilapidated backyard of his rented, 100-year-old house, just off the train track park.

He spoke about himself, one of six brothers brought up in a liberal, religious home, all of whom still live in the city, but have pursued their own paths and beliefs.

After reading a few lines of the Talmud from a page printed in the small notebooks given to each participant, he engaged the group in a discussion about public and private property, emphasizing that a private home is temporary and ephemeral, but public property belongs to all. Hence his own love for the train track path, which is accessible to all.

Ish Shalom finished by playing a Hebrew song on his mouth organ, prompting soft singing among those who knew the words.

Doron Ish Shalom (far right), an architect and Jerusalemite, talking over some Talmud with Mekudeshet journey participants in his backyard (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The group filed out, continuing to stroll along the train track, which is, said Yair, both a border and connecting seam, running as it does among several neighborhoods in the city, from Baka and the German Colony, into the traditionally lower income neighborhood of the Katamonim that now attracts young families, and into Beit Safafa, an Arab neighborhood at the southern end of the city.

“If you walk along the train track park, you see who walks here, and it changes all the time,” said Yair.

The group veered off the path into a community garden, one of 50 in Jerusalem, planted with beds of herbs, to hear another speaker, and to munch on fresh-picked radishes and cherry tomatoes.

Back on the path, there were glimpses of older, private homes, still untouched by encroaching apartment buildings, and with yards planted with fig and olive trees, their branches hanging over the path.

Just beyond the parking lot of the Rami Levy supermarket that abuts the path was the cool underside of a pedestrian bridge, decorated by a professionally graffitied mural in honor of the Hapoel Katamon soccer team, a fan-owned club.

Gil Hochstein, a Jerusalemite social worker who volunteers for the soccer team, spoke about his work with the club, helping fans in need and creating a community out of a somewhat disparate group of people.

“It’s the power of the people together,” he said. “It’s the league of neighborhoods.”

An apt metaphor for a journey through part of Jerusalem.

There are several more journeys during the duration of the Mekudeshet festival, with tickets available for purchase at the Mekudeshet website.

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