Who belongs in Jerusalem?

People ask me all the time about what it’s like to live in Jerusalem.

It is a hard place on a day-to-day basis because you really have to work to find people you can relate to. As a white, American, female, non-Jewish, non-Christian, I had to really work. I found that some of the most accepting residents are also the most marginalized.

JerusalemEven if you are only visiting Jerusalem, a trip to a place like that will make people ask themselves: “Maybe I should think about living here?”

The Jerusalem residents I have had the chance to meet all have one thing in common: they have a sense of humor about the absurd. The more time you spend there, the more you realize how absurd it truly is. Absurdly beautiful.

A couple of years ago I encountered this group of teenagers who do parkour in their spare time. That’s the sport where people use urban settings to jump around.

These parkour athletes were as young and reckless as teenagers you’d find anywhere: they didn’t care that they had no protective equipment or significant training. They let me photograph them for hours as they jumped dangerously off and over some rooftops in the Old City. I never stopped to think that we might be running on the rooftop of people’s homes. When you’re inside the Old City it feels like normal life is somehow suspended. And normal rules, like running on people’s rooftops.

When the kids were leading me up to the rooftop they raced through the streets of the Old City like they were running through their backyard. It was for some of them.

“Ah, the smell of the Old City,” one of them said with a certain sense of nostalgia far beyond his age.”All the incense and spices! It makes me think of my childhood.”

I could tell that he had been taught to love and treasure the place and everything inside its walls like you would a sweet old friend. No judgement for its many, many flaws (keep in mind the Old City is a flashpoint for violence, particularly in times of regional unrest). I hadn’t even noticed a smell until he said something. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. That afternoon photographing those teenage boys as they leapt in the air like superheroes while taking time to admire the heart of their city was better than a top-dollar tour.

That is the beauty of crazy Jerusalem, she has the ability to truly surprise you.

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