Musrara, the Jerusalem neighbourhood where I live, is probably the most schizophrenic place in Jerusalem. Whenever I step out of my front door, I never know what’s awaiting me.
Sometimes, it’s a bunch of little ‘Nachmans’ accidentally setting fire to the recycling bins when they get a bit too excited about burning their chametz, before Pesach. Other times, it’ll be a bunch of Sephardi ‘arsim’ (a Hebrew slang for young men who have funny haircuts, a big fake diamond stud in one ear, and more often than not, an even bigger black kippa on their head), smoking a few packs of cigarettes and whooping it up around the football pitch.
Still other times, it’ll be women in shawls and thick tights, or men with long payot and black hats who are studiously guarding their eyes.
And then, there’s the art students, who take the craziness of Musrara right up to a whole other level.
Recently, Musrara’s art school decided to have an art festival for three days. Even by local standards, there were some pretty weird goings on. One art student decided to knit herself a very short dress, unravel the end of it, and then tie that bit of wool to a metal railing sticking out of the wall on one of the local streets.
She just stood there, unravelled, for hours.
Then, there were the couple on either side of the park with one yellow hand. They were both waving their one yellow hand around ‘artistically’ and singing opera arias. It’s only when we came across the ‘pair’ that I realised that the first woman with the yellow hand we’d seen wasn’t a deranged lunatic who’d accidentally found herself at home.
One of the exhibits that I kind of liked was this huge tub of ‘slime’ (you know, the same stuff they sell to kids in little tubs of bright green and blue, so they can pull off all their ‘booger’ practical jokes) – except this one was coloured shiny gold.
It was odd, but kind of cool to see a bunch of trendy grown-ups lining up to stick their hands in the shiny goo. The pavement was glittering like the proverbial streets of America for days afterwards.
I didn’t really make an effort to participate in the festival, but every time I popped out to buy a pint of milk or pick up a bag of carrots, I found myself in the middle of it all, as it spread out into every nook and cranny.
And the weird thing was, no-one batted an eyelid that in the middle of all the ‘art’ and nonsense that is usually the exclusive domain of high-brow secular people in Tel Aviv, a bunch of people with long payot, or long skirts, were weaving their way in and out, trying to get on with their life.
I’m so used to the bizarre mix that is Musrara, that I kind of take it for granted now. But after the art festival, I suddenly realized what a very special place I live in. People who are mamash ‘weird’ by most people’s definition of that word, but in such different and usually opposing ways, and we’re all just getting on fine together.
No-one stoned or heckled the ‘unravelling’ lady who barely had any clothes on underneath her loose-knit dress; no-one started up with any of the juvenile Nachman’s, who kept trying to fiddle with a couple of the more interesting exhibits, like the remote-controlled ‘bongo playing’ machine.
Dare I say it, there was a lot of peace and love going on.
It’s easy to preach tolerance and acceptance when you exclusively talk to, and surround yourself with, people who look and think and speak exactly the same way you do.
In Musrara, no-one talks tolerance (at least, not in my circles) – but every day, they live it. And it’s so beautiful.