A gracefully wrought, impressionistic portrait of life in a singular Jerusalem neighborhood.
A native of New Hampshire, Jerusalem Post film critic Hoffman made Jerusalem her home eight years ago. With the dramatic edge of narrative, Hoffman vividly creates portraits of her new neighbors, rich and poor, Arab and Jew. What emerges is an unsettling portrait of a divided society. Despite daily interactions with a Moroccan-born contractor neighbor and the neighborhood's Palestinian fix-it man, the contact remains largely superficial: class and ethnic bridges cannot be crossed. In the Musrara neighborhood itself, the newcomers (like Hoffman) live in stylish old Arab homes beside longtime residents who are boxed into uniformly ugly cement structures. Although Hoffman is undeniably drawn to her new home ("I love this place," she tells the local market owner), she is also revolted by some of her neighbors. Among these is a group of newly religious, self-righteous yeshiva students whose contempt for women is matched by their overall boorishness (e.g., they mock the author for her displeasure at their cutting down a tree). And as a newcomer of the 1990s, Hoffman mourns the city's loss of the cafés and bookstores that once thrived in the center of town. A metaphor for the new Jerusalem is perhaps to be found in the dumpster filled with discarded Hebrew, German, Yiddish, English, and French books that posed no interest to any passerby. The religious texts were collected by some local Orthodox Jews—but not to be read, only to be saved from desecration. Also disturbing to Hoffman is the abyss between Arab and Jewish Jerusalem—a few streets apart, but actually worlds and decades away from each other.
Steadily perceptive and brimming with informed passion, Hoffman's account opens the shades on one of the most remarkable cities on earth.