This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) blog is written by American Fellow James Levine.
The Old City in Jerusalem is a fascinating place. It is thousands of years old and home to some of the most sacred sites in the Abrahamic religions. Another amazing thing about the Old City is that people still live there, and they live regular, modern lives. Near the tomb of Jesus Christ, one can find restaurants and cafes. Down the road from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, there are people working out at a local gym. Across from the Western Wall one can find regular K-12 schools.
I have been working out a player who lives in the Old City over the past couple weeks and I was excited when he invited me to have dinner at his house. This isn’t something that I’m accustomed to in the United States, but the warmth and openness of people in Jerusalem is unparalleled. In Jerusalem, it’s not unusual to receive an invitation for Shabbat dinner from a stranger or to have tea with a taxi driver.
Obviously I accepted my player’s family’s invitation. Eating at someone’s house in the Old City is a really cool experience. The area has a palpable energy at night and, especially at dusk, you feel like you have been transported to another time. When I arrived at my player’s house, I entered through what seemed like a secret door leading down a narrow hallway that opened up into a beautiful terrace. Inside, the house had a modern kitchen and furniture, but the ceiling and parts of the walls were curved and made of Old City stone.
Dinner itself was even better than expected. I love Arab food and food culture; it is incredibly relaxed and welcoming. Guests are encouraged to eat and the food is delicious. My player insisted that his mom’s maklouba, an Arab dish consisting of chicken and rice, was the best in Jerusalem. Little did he know that I’ve tried maklouba before, and I’m well-aware that everyone claims that his or her mom makes the best maklouba in Jerusalem.
After lots of talking, eating, and unsuccessfully searching for a sports channel broadcasting a game between the Jordanian and Palestinian national basketball teams, I went on my way, with a belly full of maklouba, through the winding alleys of the Old City back to my apartment.