Thursday, November 29, 2012

Heart of Gold

We enjoyed a lovely morning in Jerusalem this morning with the guides of the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, the highlight of which was J finding a porcupine quill in the bushes right next to the visitors' centre.

We walked down through the pine woods to Sacher Park, part of the city's green "lung", close to the centre of town, and from there over to the olive groves in the Valley of the Cross overlooking the impressive Georgian monastery and the Israel Museum.

We met a mix of Arab and Jewish families harvesting olives, beating the branches with sticks until the fruit fell onto the sheets laid out under the tress. They invited the children to pick some too and take them over to the ancient style stone press for squeezing into oil.

We've had decent rainfall this November and the first post-rain plants are waking up, sitvanit crocuses, karkom (turmeric) and the leaves of the cyclamen, though not yet the flowers.

It's always good to spend time in Jerusalem so I'm very glad that this year my kids are participating in an educational programme at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, ensuring that we visit the Holy City quite regularly.

The JBO began just over a decade ago in a little ramshackle hut behind the Knesset rose garden. Back when I was a student and working part time in Jerusalem I volunteered there a few times to learn about bird ringing. I liked finding time sometimes on the way home from class or work to hang out in the hide, amazed at the way nature had found a way to thrive in the heart of the city.

Since those early days the centre has flourished, boasting a nice little visitors' centre and offering a wealth of activities for kids and adults alike, from learning about bird ringing to night time nature safaris. The children always come home so excited by what they've seen and learnt, recounting to me all the new and seasonal observations they need to add to their nature diaries.

Despite the glorious day out in Jerusalem though, my highlight todaywas taking the monit sherut (shared service taxi/minibus) home from Jerusalem. For the most part we manage decently with public transport, but it's never easy at the end of a busy day piling everyone onto the bus, organising the bags, holding the baby, folding the buggy, paying the driver and just making sure nothing is lost or forgotten.

I usually get on right at the start of the route so that I'm not pressed for time at a busy city bus stop, but today we just missed our bus and it would have meant getting into rush hour to take the next one so I opted for the slightly more expensive, but more convenient sherut.

There I was with the baby and two exhausted kids, a couple of bags and the buggy, all flustered from having rushed over to the sherut stop from the bus stop (wonderful the way these two are nowhere near each other despite going to the same destination), already mentally figuring out how to juggle everything while not delaying the other passengers already waiting to board.

Suddenly the supervisor noticed me, calling out to the driver to come help, making me the centre of attention as the passengers in front of me in the queue all turned around to see what the fuss was.

"Can I hold the baby for you while you pay the driver?" asked the youngish guy immediately ahead of me. "I'll fold the stroller and stow it" said the middle-aged woman with the chic headscarf in a delightful French accent. "Why don't I help the kids on board" offered the lady next to her, while a couple of soldiers were jostling each other over who got to carry the diaper and picnic bags. It turned out these last guys weren't even riding on the same sherut, they'd been waiting in line for a different route and just came over to help.

The icing on the cake was that when I arrived at my destination a female soldier who'd been napping in the front seat asked the driver to wait for her so that she could help the kids and me off the minibus and get the buggy out of the boot, unfolded and ready for baby. It wasn't her stop.

Now I'm used to people being helpful in Jerusalem, there is almost always a kind soul who will help lift a pushchair off a bus or give the kids a seat while I pay the driver. To have the entire bus queue fighting over who gets to help, that is something new for me, even in the City of Gold.

"It's very simple Ima" said young J "everyone just wanted to share a mitzva"

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