A Tour and Discourse in Jerusalem

As a Tour Guide in Jerusalem, I work with many tourists and Israelis and I love working with diverse groups – I feel that meeting different groups keeps me sharp and gives me better knowledge of my own environment and society. I try to take on groups that interest and challenge me. Just the other day I was guiding a group of soldiers from the Israeli Border Police that serve in East Jerusalem. These guys, who deal with one of the hardest Sisyphean tasks during their military service, are tough. They don’t relate so easily to a tour or, for that matter, to the tour guide. That day I took part in a great  project of Beit Shmuel (A cultural home for the reform Judaism in Jerusalem) which is called “A tour and a discourse” (Believe me, It sounds good in Hebrew). During the project we use the tour as an educational method in order to reveal and discuss different aspects concerning the Israeli society and its connection to the daily tasks of the Israeli Border policemen.

In a hot days’ morning I met the platoon members whom I guided near the Gerard Behar Theatre hall in central Jerusalem. The guys where cynical before I even opened my mouth. They were not sure as to what was going on and why it was going to take five long hours. I took them to the Nachlaot Neighborhood, showing them on our way the ultra orthodox neighborhood “Knesset Israel C”. When we arrived to “Mazkeret Moshe” (‘The memory of Moses’ – named after Moses Montefiore) Neighborhood, We sat in front of the Weiner House (A community center) and started talking. Apparently this platoon just dealt with some ultra orthodox demonstrations that were held as a protest against what they consider a desecration of Sabbath. The soldiers had a lot on their mind after this encounter. To put it in a polite manner – they did not think highly of the ultra orthodox community in the city. I tried to show them a different aspect and described the mostly harmonic life that ultra orthodox Jews, orthodox Jews and secular Jews lead in that specific neighborhood we were sitting in. as I was talking, a guy appeared. He didn’t look too good. Very thin, bulging eyes, he was wearing a dirty undershirt that was a few sizes bigger than him. He looked like the perfect example for a man from the underprivileged part of society. Unfortunately, us tour guides tend to ignore these people, especially if they start bothering our group with remarks that we have to admit, many times have nothing to do with reality. This time my intuition was telling me differently and I let him talk to the group. He presented himself as “Ben David” (Son of David) and showed a really stunning amount of knowledge. He told us of his well kept house and his childhood as a new comer from Morocco. He spoke with respect for all, including the ultra orthodox neighbors, some of them are his best friends. He just said everything I meant them to hear. The soldiers thought it was a pre-planned show, but listened respectfully to what he had to say.

The Border police jeep - Tours in Jerusalem with Yishay Shavit

The Border police in Jerusalem

We went on with our tour. We visited the Machane Yehuda Market place, The Nebi Ukasha mosque, the Ethiopian church and the Russian Sergei mansion We talked about working with new comers who immigrated recently to Israel, We talked about the ever-changing society in Israel, we talked about the Hebrew language and its’ place in society and we spoke of the different sects and communities in the city. After a two hours tour, it seemed as if the group could take no more. The moment I felt they were loosing it, I decided to take the turn into Musrara Neighborhood, where it is never boring. We got to “Mishmarot” Street, where I explained about the Israeli “black Panthers” Organization and read a text with outrageous remarks about the discrimination of Jewish immigrants from Middle Eastern countries. The Guys were really not impressed. Yes, they were listening and answering my questions politely but I knew I wasn’t getting through to them. Suddenly, from one of the apartments, came down a man, about 60 years old. His hair was neatly combed, he was wearing shorts and Sandals. I saw him looking at the soldiers resentfully. I stopped him and asked him if he knew the Black Panthers. We could all see his eyes lit as he told me he was one of the founders of the Israeli Black Panthers. Asking for his name he answered Koko – and I needed no more to complete Dar’ee.

Koko Dar’ee was there during the 70’s with Reuven Abargil, Charlie Bitton, Se’adya Marziano and others in Mishmarot Street in the heart of the Musrara neighborhood. He was there when the Panthers inflamed Jerusalem, he was one of those who were fed up with the economical situation, He sat in Prime Minster Golda Meirs’ office just so he can hear her saying about him and his friends that “they are not nice people”. Now, Koko was standing in front of my tired platoon that was, by now, listening attentively. This Moment he became the national hero that he is, and he could share his ideology and thoughts with his audience. He did not hesitate and immediately started talking, he went back to his childhood, talked about the days of the Black Panthers and finished with a realistic opinion of the social state of Israel these days. There were minutes when he got very emotional and moments when he sounded like a wise old man who wants the younger generation to acknowledge his legacy and maybe start the struggle once more.

At the end of the wonderful conversation with Koko we went on with our tour and concluded with a conversation in our air-conditioned classroom in Beit Shmuel. I was hard to conduct a coherent conversation. The soldiers were exhausted from the heat. I had no choice. I put aside all my plans and sophisticated well prepared educational tasks and found myself in the middle of a hot discussion over Ben David and Koko Dar’ees’ word. Indeed it was a tour and a discourse in the streets of Jerusalem.

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