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Jerusalem Light Rail, Revisited

[Originally published in Kim Milrell da Costa’s, July 23, 2013]

Once again, my family and I are visiting Israel from the northwest corner of the U.S., in Seattle, Washington, where I manage an Israel resource center (  And once again, we are spending our summer in my hometown of Rehovot.  While the kids are at day camp—“kaytana” in Hebrew—I roam the country by bus and train and car to see friends and acquaintances, old and new.  Once again, my travels bring me to Jerusalem for a day of meetings.  I wrote last year about my adventures on Jerusalem’s “CitiPass” light rail, and got some very positive reactions, so I thought I would post an update.

The air is cooler in Jerusalem, drier, crisper, breezier than on the inland plains.  It feels different not only physically, but also spiritually—literally, uplifting, where my step is lighter.

The security checkpoint at the entrance to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem is closed.  It is not abandoned; the x-ray machine and metal-detector gate are still there, but pushed aside, unused.  Two security guards stand around, more engaged in talking to each other than observing the passersby.  Ironically, I feel more secure, not less, with the lax security.  Obviously, Israelis are no longer anxious about suicide bombers, and it’s easier to come and go.

Walking along Jaffa Road, I note that it is back to the bustling commercial area it once was, before it was torn up for years to build the light-rail lines.  There are fewer cars now and more pedestrians, and the Mahane Yehuda market is as busy as ever.  Hair salons and clothes shops, hardware stores and cafes, a youth hostel and a hat seller, old buildings and new line my route, along with quite a few construction sites in progress.  The economy is obviously booming.

The light rail passes by every ten minutes or so, silent on its tracks but clanging a bell to warn pedestrians to get out of the way.  I fumble with the ticket machine but eventually figure it out and deposit my coins, 6.60 NIS (about $1.85) for a single-ride ticket.  On the train, it seems that pretty much everyone is talking into a cell phone–speaking Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, English, Spanish, and a few other languages I can’t quite make out.  (One of them was probably Amharic, spoken by Ethiopian-Israelis, based on the speakers’ skin color and facial features.)  An ultra-Orthodox (“haredi”) man with long side-curls seems unperturbed standing next to a young woman in shorts and a tank top.  An elderly Arab man helps an Orthodox mother maneuver her baby stroller onto the train.  Another mother is talking on the phone about her teenage daughter who is bored at home, looking for advice on what she might do during the long summer vacation.

Next to me is a group of teenagers, each with a tag in a plastic holder hanging around his or her neck.  I squint to make out the fine print, not wanting to appear nosy (though obviously I am).  The tags say “Athlete,” and in smaller letters, “USA –Tennis.”  The green lanyards say “Maccabiah 2013.”  These young men and women are part of Team USA, the largest delegation to the “Jewish Olympic games” that open tonight.  I start chatting with them, and learn fairly quickly that one of the boys is from Mercer Island, Washington; his family and mine belong to the same synagogue.  A small world indeed!

It’s good to be back in Jerusalem.


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