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From chapter 6: The Aquarium
The summer evening has that special freshness so unique to Jerusalem: perfect temperature, a light wind wafting the cool air as newly planted olive and cypress trees swayed gently in chorus in front of the ramparts of the Old City. I am sitting at a table in a restaurant at the heart of the new Mamila Shopping Mall: a vast pedestrian street which begins a few steps away from Jaffa Gate and ends by the French Saint Vincent Hospice at the beginning of Jaffa Road, the road that led to Jaffa by the sea, well before Tel-Aviv had even been conceived.
A crowd is strolling peacefully in the mall as though without a worry on earth. Entire families even with young children in strollers, young couples, groups of adolescents, mature couples are all out in the mild night, window shopping in front of stores that display the latest clothing fashions, summer shoes, and trendy household objects...before stopping for an ice cream or an American cookie. The scene could be taking place anywhere in the up and coming areas of the world, but paradoxically not in the United States where the very first shopping malls have aged, and not so gracefully. I think instead of Bangalore’s newest shopping mall, inaugurated more or less at the same time as Mamila: the same appetite for novelty, the same youthful crowds, the same boutiques carrying global trademarks surrounded in the less fancy sites by smaller ones carrying local labels, including a state of the art huge pharmacy which sells generic made in Israel drugs, not unlike those made in India, at very competitive prices. Israel of course is not India. But as the summer tent movement showed, the income gap between rich and poor in Israel has reached previously unimaginable levels, destroying in the process the relative egalitarianism that used to prevail in the country. And as in India, the commercial center in Jerusalem is very close to another reality: the Arab quarter of East Jerusalem with its eternal bazaars, its shop sellers sitting on plastic chairs, in front of piles of clothing, rugs, silver jewels, ceramic objects, dried fruits, spices and mountains of watermelons.
There are young Arabs from East Jerusalem among the strollers in this open-air shopping mall. A group of young women wearing blue jeans and the hijab, thanks to which they can be distinguished from their Israeli Jewish peers, walk by, and one can spot a few families, but there are no elderly. It is just the opposite among the Jewish ultra-orthodox. They too are strolling but one sees only very young couples with their children or mature even elderly adults, but no young singles. These are still under parental control and no one wants them to compromise the group’s strict principles. Were they to be spotted in a shopping mall their ultra-orthodoxy would be questioned and their marriage prospects would wilt. One can see these young singles strolling in the streets of Jerusalem West, their mothers walking in front, the young man with his large black hat and the young girl with a dark hued ankle length dress a few steps behind. These outings, I am told, are timed. The times such a young couple can be out together can be counted on the fingers of one hand before they must decide whether they are made for each other. Their body language during these determining encounters is fascinating: they walk with a clearly visible distance between them and both keep their arms crossed over their chests. In our Western world such a gesture denotes mistrust and unwillingness to cooperate. In their universe, it must instead convey purity and seriousness.