My favorite thing about the first Haifa-Jerusalem train is the sunrise. I never catch where on the route it appears, but it always makes a grand entrance, bleeding intense shades of red, orange, and yellow through the thick hazy gauze covering what might otherwise be entirely blue skies.
The 15-minute walk from my apartment in lower Hadar to HaShmona Central Train Station is mostly desolate at 5am, except for workers at the bakery shop on HaNevi`im Street and grocery stores on Khouri Street for whom the distinction between late night and early morning is trivial. I arrive at the station and, as usual, pull up my face mask, place my backpack on the security conveyor belt, take everything out of my pockets, walk through the metal detector, and collect my stuff on the other end, all under disinterested gaze of station security personnel. I then walk over to the ticket machine, place my RavKav* against the scanner, and purchase my 60 shekel (~$18) day pass that covers all modes of transportation across Israel. At last, I scan my RavKav at the platform entrance and walk across to catch my 5:25am southbound ride to Modi`in.
There is a nice kind of calm on the platform; everyone appears fully awake but not yet fully alert. There are also fewer people this early in the morning, whereas already half an hour later platforms and trains overflow with masses, and I can always find a seat with a table next to the window and work throughout the ride.
It takes 2 hours to get to Jerusalem from Haifa with trains switching at Ben Gurion Airport. The curly-haired guy I see every Thursday is reliably there this morning too. Usually, we are the only ones on the platform, but this morning a young man paces the one diamond shaped chair arrangement distance between us. The shebot shouts over the intercom in Hebrew, then follows in English “…No smoking is allowed on any train platforms except in designated areas.” The young man looks up to the intercom as though looking at God and then, defiantly unfazed, continues to suck in the nicotine coated smoke.
The three of us boarded the next train to Jerusalem 7 minutes later and I went back to writing. It’s only about half an hour from Ben Gurion Airport to Yitzhak Navon Central Train Station. Planned for several years and intended for completion already in 2019, the new train station finally opened this year, making Jerusalem better connected and more accessible to the rest of the country. It’s not that the train from Haifa to Jerusalem is faster than buses 940 and 960 that connect Haifa’s Lev HaMifratz and Hof HaCarmel bus stations, respectively, to Jerusalem’s central bus station – all take approximately 110 minutes. I take the train whenever I can, which is anytime except for Friday to Saturday night, to avoid motion sickness.
After walking up endless escalators and surfacing on the top, I walk across the light rail tracks toward Jerusalem’s central bus station and then head eastward to Sarei Israel/Hashmona`im bus stop to catch number 68 to Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mt. Scopus campus. It takes another half hour to get there because Mt. Scopus is located in East Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, which marks the division between the future Palestinian and Israeli states. Mt. Scopus, much like unilaterally established settlements throughout East Jerusalem, is nested amidst Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Surrounding it to the west are neighborhoods of Al Shaikh Jarrah, Wadi Al Joz, and Bab a-Zahara and to the east are Isawiya, Bitana, and Haba’il Hamdan.
I spend the day at my new lab at Hebrew University, a place that has quickly become my professional homebase. Here I come to work and learn about innovative work of my talented colleagues and the wider Israeli academic community, but also to feel part of a community.
I occasionally stay with a friend in Jerusalem for the weekend. I met her, a fellow American scholar, at the Israeli embassy in DC where we were both getting our student visas. We got to hang out quite a bit since I arrived in Israel and got released from quarantine. Staying with her in Bab a-Zahara has opened up a whole new world to me, one that I haven’t experienced on any of my prior stays in Israel. I’ve already located several favorite spots for working and people watching, including The Gateway Café located at the entrance of the New Gate to the Old City, Educational Bookshop, and Nordic Café. The three locations receive diverse groups of customers, simultaneously allowing for cross-ethnic interaction and serving as ethnically homogenous safe havens.
I split my weeks between Haifa and Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, my days revolve around Hebrew University of Jerusalem campus at Mt. Scopus, East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods, and the city center along Jaffa Street that runs from Damascus Gate of East Jerusalem all the way to the central bus and train stations. My Thursdays, and every day for that matter, is saturated with opportunities for ethnographic observation. Sometimes it’s just really hard to soak it all in.
*RavKav – Israeli transportation pass