Jerusalem Morning

Early morning customers at the makollet across the street

When I wake up, I hear the chirping of birds through the open windows. I’m no expert on bird song, but it sounds like two, or maybe even three, species are represented. What a lovely peaceful way to start the day. But birdsong does not stand out against the silence for very long; it is soon drowned out by other sounds.

The early morning rumble of garbage trucks provides the background to my daily writing sessions. hey were distracting at first, but now I’ve gotten used to them. And I am hardly aware of the trucks delivering vegetables, milk, and bread to the makollet (neighborhood market) across the street.

First there’s the loud clanking and grinding of gears as the big garbage trucks lift and upend the large green dumpsters by the curb. People call them “frogs” because  they sit there like frogs on their lily pads, but more likely because of their dark green color. No Amazonian bright yellow and red poison frogs for Jerusalemites!

Then come the delivery trucks, in a hurry to unload their cargo and get to the next store. As they backup to get as close as possible to the opening in the railing that guards the sidewalk, they emit piercing beeps. This sound is followed by the loud thumps of cartons of tomatoes and large bags of potatoes hitting the ground, and the heavier sound of large plastic crates of milk. The boxes of unwrapped bread fresh from Angel’s bakery barely make sound as

Watermelons, tomatoes, and avocados waiting to be put on makollet shelves

they hit the pavement, and eggs stacked so gently, we don’t hear them being delivered at all.

By 6:45 AM when Avi, the proprietor comes from morning prayers to open up, the merchandise is sitting in front of the makollet, waiting patiently to be put in the appropriate bins or on the shelves.

The drivers delivering small children to the gan across the street are not so patient. Around 7:30, dozens of people begin crossing the street at a slow toddler’s pace. Cars clog it as drivers search for a nonexistent parking spot. The traffic jam on the sidewalk can be un-navigable as parents and children stream in several direction toward the gan or the Maimon elementary school next door. Jerusalem sports more baby strollers, and double-wide strollers, than any other city I’ve seen. They all seem to travel up or down Ben Zion street in the early morning.

Morning traffic jam at the gan (right, behind gray gate) and elementary school (behind blue gate on left)

Inevitably, several small voices will wail over the indignity of being carried the last few meters to school, instead of being allowed to walk and examine every small pebble on the way. It’s interesting–I hear more cries of “Abba!” than “Ima.” From these sounds, I’d say more fathers than mothers escort children to school. Whenever I’ve look out the window, however, the escorts are evenly divided: one third fathers, one third mothers, and one third older siblings.

Children start carrying things in backpacks at an early age here. The toddlers’ backpacks are just big enough to hold half a sandwich and 2 slices of apple, while the older children tote packs that probably outweigh them. Training for IDF service, no doubt.

Of course, not every day is so predictable. One morning  when men were leaving the synagogues to go home after morning prayers, I heard someone singing. That’s not unusual. What was unusual was that it sounded like a Native American chant. Tradition says Jerusalem is the center of the universe. If it is, then Native American chants are as at home here as the European and Middle Eastern melodies we usually hear.

And then I hear the Shma man wandering through the neighborhood. He periodically stops and loudly chants. It is the central prayer of our people “Shma Yisrael, Hashem Elokenu, Hashem Echod,”–Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord alone! Why he does this, no one seems to know.

It’s just another sunny morning in Jerusalem. I sit down to eat breakfast in blessed silence.