In Jerusalem
In Jerusalem
Wolfgang Büscher*

JERUSALEM — I was walking down Via Dolorosa — the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem. In front of me were three young Germans. They found the whole thing laughable, and kept confirming this to each other by pointing out all the stupid details. "Here, look, we're at the next station. What does it say about this one?" One of them read from a guidebook, "Veronica hands Jesus the cloth to wipe the perspiration from his face. The likeness of his face remains on the cloth."

A shaking of heads, low laughter. All the pious imagery, the rosary beads, the icons. A group of pilgrims was heading in our direction, Americans, carrying a cross and singing the words of the criminal on the cross next to Jesus's. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

They were singing so softly it sounded like a distant murmur. You could see how foreign they felt here, anxious not to hurt anyone's feelings. The pilgrims' inhibition bordered on the ridiculous, and the Germans picked up on that as they squeezed past them on the narrow street. The crossing of the two attitudes was somehow unpleasant. And being caught right in the middle, I felt it acutely.

When I reached where Via Dolorosa meets Al Wad Street, I couldn't walk on because suddenly I'd become part of an Arab crowd that filled the whole street and moved very slowly. Thousands of feet, maybe tens of thousands of feet, shuffled in the same direction. It made me think of the expression "the Arab street." Here it was, and I was lost deep inside of it.

It was Friday — the Arab hour. The Muslim quarter emerged from its grayness as did the Arab men who can seem so invisible, in their badly fitting jackets and cheap sweaters. Now I was seeing white head coverings and gold-braided Bedouin garb. Some men carried canes, even though many didn't need them. Instead, the canes served as a scepter signifying the dignity of their age.

A life of prayers

Of course, Friday's crowd included young men elegantly clad in Western dress, their prayer rugs slung casually over their shoulders. These were slim success stories in well-fitting suits and freshly ironed white shirts. There were also old women, some still walking tall, others bent over so far they were no taller than a 9-year-old child.

It seemed as if all of Arab Jerusalem was on the street walking, striding, swaggering, hobbling to Friday prayers. I heard an old many saying, "Ya Allah!" then again "Ya Allah!" He was unsteady on his legs, and the travail of old age was noticeable in his sigh. He'd no doubt followed these stone streets since his youth, a journey that was more and more difficult for him.

The pace quickened at the corner of Via Dolorosa and Al Wad, where more heavily armed men than usual were posted. This is where the irreconcilable sides meet: Arabia, Judea. Thousands of Muslims were on their way to Haram al- Sharif, which the Jews call the Temple Mount. Thousands of Jews were on their way to the Wailing Wall, which is nothing other than the western supporting wall of the plateau on which Muslims were at this very moment saying their Friday prayers. And in the middle of this were Christians visiting the Way of the Cross.

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Pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa — Photo: Seetheholyland

So there I was, standing in that short, narrow stretch of path being traveled by all three groups.

As if led by some choreographer on high, people who would throw stones at one another under slightly different circumstances instead just drifted past each other, so packed together you could smell their breath. No one touched anyone else. In fact, they walked past appearing not to notice each other.

That was it. The whole secret. I understood it at just that moment, on the corner of Al Wad Street and Via Dolorosa. This was the high art of feigning not to see. While the United States and Europe pursue some kind of melting-pot Utopia, I could see before my eyes the potential for peace in this mutual act of ignoring.

Urban legend

Granted, it was a peace as certain as a glass of milk is in the hands of a 3-year-old. The glass could drop at any time, just as this fragile coexistence could detonate from one moment to the next.

Charly Effendi had warned me against wandering through certain deserted streets at night. He had once been attacked. "They just appear, and start stabbing — your legs, arms — in seconds. You don't stand a chance." Who are "they?" I asked him. He shrugged his shoulders.

On my first day in Jerusalem, I'd heard about a knife attack at the Damascus Gate. Word was that the perpetrator had stabbed an ultraorthodox Jew in the neck, from behind. He had then fled and was still at large. Who does something like that? More shrugs from the people I spoke to. It was the act of a criminal, a crazy person. The man who was attacked had survived and wasn't even seriously hurt. Nothing to make a big deal about in Jerusalem.

Progressively, the parade of Arabs was thinning out. Every side street that led to one of the gates of Haram al-Sharif was filled with the faithful. I was able to make fast progress in Al Wad Street and soon reached the Wailing Wall, where far more than usual worshippers had gathered.

The yearning for this place that had moved Jews all over the world for nearly two thousand years had not been stilled. You could see it in the hands that were laid against the large blocks of stone that made up the wall. You could hear it in the voices of those singing the psalms, in the sighs of those standing silently. A non-Jew cannot imagine what it meant and still means today for a Jew to come to this wall of the lost temple and pray.

Until 1967, when Moshe Dayan conquered the Old City, it had been absolutely forbidden for 19 years for Jews to visit the Wailing Wall. They had been forbidden from blowing the shofar (ram's horn) since 1931. There had been several massacres over things such as this. There was no open space in front of the wall, just a gloomy street that ran by it.

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Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock and Wailing wall — Photo: Peter Mulligan

In short, the most holy Jewish place remaining was a non-place, and the pain of that is remains as access has been made as difficult as possible for Jews. When Dayan's advance troops reached the Wall in 1967, the soldiers wept openly, and the image was broadcast around the world.

Trance of commerce

I looked up. The air was filled with a sound like the hum of an enormous swarm of bees. I realized it was Arab humming emanating from the several thousand attending Friday prayers on the Temple Mount. The humming hung like a cloud over the Jews gathered at the foot of the mount. They were that close. Those who were alien and hated lived behind the wall, and the sound of them roared overhead.

While the Muslims kneeled on the plateau and bowed to Mecca, the Jews were murmuring their prayers a few meters beneath them. Surahs above, psalms below. Above me were people certain of their place in the privileged circle of Allah and the prophets, and around me the prayers reflected yearning for the lost temple. Temple Mount was just a few steps away, the Wailing Wall a stone's throw. And yes, stones had flown here, bullets too. Now the humming of prayer swelled on the heights. Arabia filled the air. All the reasons to go for each others' throats were right there. But nothing happened.

When I made my way back to Al Wad Street headed in the direction of the Damascus Gate, I found the scene completely changed. Friday prayers had come to an end, and the stream of worshippers was ebbing. Now the street sellers had arrived. Prayer day is a big day for business. There were freshly picked strawberries all piled up, stacks of Arab sweets. There were sneakers, bright red Teddy bears, dates, electronic appliances of all kinds, underwear sold in packs of 10.

The cries of street sellers dominated the space as the interest of the faithful turned from prayer to buying. Before now, when all those thousands were pressing forward to get to prayers, I hadn't been pushed or had my feet trampled on, not once. Now I could feel stomachs, knees, elbows pressing against me as people responded to the cries of the street sellers, each one peddling his goods with the kind of ferocity that stays in your ears hours later.

The craziest one of them all had a very basic loudspeaker with him. He stood on the semi-circle of stairs in front of the Damascus Gate shouting down to a large marveling crowd that was buying up what he had to sell with alacrity. Box after box was handed from person to person, over their heads, until it reached the happy buyer, and then the money made its way back hand up to hand.

This seasoned seller barked into his microphone without stopping. He was bright red under the hot sun, and he sold and sold, stuffing the money into his pockets as it flew in. It was as if he were in some kind of rapture, there selling microwave ovens in the center of Jerusalem.

*This article is a translated excerpt from a German-language book by Wolfgang Büscher, Ein Frühling in Jerusalem (One Spring in Jerusalem), published by Rowohlt Berlin.

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January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.

🇷🇺  NAVALNY SAGA & PUTIN’S INTENTIONS


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

🇨🇴  FROM HOSTAGE TO POTENTIAL HEAD OF STATE


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

♀️ 😔  YOUNG WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

💡  BRIGHT IDEA


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.

#️⃣ TRENDING

“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.

😄📚 SMILE OF THE WEEK

Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA


London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Dottoré! is a weekly column on Worldcrunch.com by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days


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