In the Jerusalem summer of my youth I rambled from Abu Tor down to the Jaffa Gate into the Old City, to the left through the Arab shouk, to the right onto a little street whose name I now can’t conjure that took me past the magnificent Dome of the Rock, and then down again to the Wailing Wall, liberated not so long before from the hands of the vicious little Jordanian king.
I took the bus from Kiryat haYovel on Mount Herzl, where my sister lived, with its flimsy apartment buildings thrown up hurriedly in the 1950s to provide shelter for some of the hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing the murderous pogroms and expulsion campaigns that had erupted against them across the nominally post-Nazi Arab world with the declaration of the Jewish State, down to Rehavia, to the fantastic, book-laden, haute-kulturni apartment of Gershom and Fania Scholem—in exchange for the cakes and tea with which Fania plied me, I supplied gossip, which she collected, as she collected young people, and which Scholem, as they both called him, inhaled with all the ardor of a boundless genius and the world’s greatest scholar of Kabbalah and mysticism (sorry, red-stringed Hollywood dupes)—and from there to the old station where I caught the train to Haifa and shared a car with a raucous family of Indian Jews (I hadn’t even known there were Indian Jews, such was my ignorance).
From the shaded, flowered loveliness of the King David Hotel, whose very walls and air crackled (and do so still) with the life story of the tiny great country (for good and ill), I walked to the packed, filthy old central bus station, whence I was carried, in a fabulous, mad, crush of impatient, disorderly Israelis, onto the bus for Tel Aviv, then tumbled out with them all into that seaside city—with its anti-Biblical facades eroded by sea air and sand and diesel fuel, and pock-marked by bullet-holes put there by Arab snipers and their infatuated British defenders in their 1948 siege—then rushed, and crushed, back again to the glorious, sun-bleached, ancient Jerusalemite stones.
I wandered all these places, by bus and on foot, loving the fine dust collecting like mist in my hair, in the crooks of my arms, on my eyelashes, in my ears, in the wrinkles of my blouse, on the straps of my sandals. It was Jerusalem dust, and if I knew embarrassingly little about Judaism, the religion of my people, I knew plenty about Zionism, the religion of my family, and I rejoiced to be covered in its dust.
But all that innocent joy in dust and Zion was marred by the looming, leering, familiarity of vendors in the Arab shouk—all of them male—inching ever closer, closer—because I wasn’t covered—if I stopped to look at their wares, or staring at me if I didn’t, until I flinched away, and the sounds of their shouts “Yallah! Hamoudi! Come back please, baby!” followed me down the narrow alleyways that stank of the dead, fly-covered sheep swinging from hooks in the food stalls; and marred, too, less frighteningly but more shockingly, by the grotesque sight of Haredi men flinging themselves against buildings and throwing their hands over their eyes in order not to look at me as I passed in my summer dresses, and the repulsive experience of feeling those same creatures pressed up against me, clammy with intent, whenever a crowded bus gave them the chance.
I was no feminist; I laughed with pleasure at the catcalls that to the bawling ladies of the women’s movement were so odious—the barbed poison arrows of the patriarchal master-class of rapists, or whatever it was they called men—and felt scorn for those same sobbing chicks when they preached the superiority of primitive cultures—the ones in which the men did in fact harm and enslave their women. And I’d learned, as every New York girl must do, how to stomp on the feet of the pervs on the subway, and how to hurt them with my umbrella.
But those Arab men scared me, and those Haredi men disgusted me, and they do so still today: Unlike the appreciative, hooting construction workers and neighborhood winos who were beaten so tragically into cowering submission by the tribe of women’s-movement Amazons that took over and defenestrated most of Western civ, some of these men seem to have sprung directly from a pre-Abrahamic tribalism that sees women as sinning temptresses, to be avoided, blamed, maligned, attacked, spat upon, raped, and, in the case of the Arabs, anyway, destroyed in the acts of child sacrifice that are politely known as “honor killings.”
In the post-Intifada, post-disengagement, post-Arafat, post-Cast-Lead, post-Obamic-settlement-freeze-obsession, post-hopeless-“peace-process” period of Islamofascist ascendancy, the Arab Quarter shimmers with hostility, and the words echoing in the alleyways are as likely to be “Go to hell, Amriki Jew!”—if any Amriki Jew venture there—as “Wait, hammoudi, for you, only $10!” But the quality of the woman-hatred of some is unchanged.
And all these years later some Haredim traverse the city in their own buses, with the men sitting in front and the women sitting in back, lest someone be tempted to look in someone else’s direction and something . . . explosive . . . happen.
The effort to avoid the legion snares of secularism and modernity have driven these two groups even further into a primitivism that looks worrisomely interchangeable; like their counterparts on the “Palestinian” side, young Haredi men are already hurling stones at Israeli soldiers. How long before the nexus is complete, and Haredi women are strapping bombs to the torsos of their sons and sending them off to martyr themselves at IDF checkpoints or sidewalk cafes or pizza parlors?