When I was in Toronto last week, a long lost cousin of mine told me that he likes Tel Aviv but not Jerusalem because he doesn’t connect with the religion here. I said, “So ignore the religion!” And he said, “Well, I wouldn’t know how to do that.”

Isn’t it a shame? Jerusalem need not be attractive only for the Western Wall or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. What about contemporary Jerusalem? What about the people?

One of my most fond (and clear) memories from my first trip to Israel at the age of seven was a concert my parents took us to in Jerusalem. It was a contest for young local musicians, of elementary school age.

I clearly remember feeling inspired by the show; I loved the performances and the music. That evening did something to me despite barely understanding the talking or the words of the songs. Since it wasn’t an event for tourists, I felt privy to something authentically Israeli – and I really liked it. To this day we know the songs from that night since we brought the tape home with us to Toronto.

Most people – locals and visitors – don’t realize how much is going on in the city. And what’s so cool about it is that contemporary Jerusalem – everything from its architecture to its music – is largely influenced by the city’s history, its complex religious nature, and its evolution over centuries. It is indeed a unique culture to get exposure to.

Another fascinating thing about the local culture is that because of the religious, security and economic complexities of life in the city, one would think that the creativity would be heavy and depressed. But instead, if you get out there, take in the culture and see (or meet!) the people associated with the arts, you’ll find a lot of warmth, vibrancy and joy. It’s inspiring to behold – really quite an enigma.

If you think about it, this is probably one of the most interesting places to enjoy the culture of a city – because what can be more interesting, more raw and more real than a city that lives on the border of many different cultures, attracts people from all over the world, and has literally, deep into the soil, some of the most important human history?

And, by the way, I totally support you going to the Western Wall or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Or both. And I hope you have an amazing time in Jerusalem, whatever you decide to do. It is a city with a lot to offer its visitors.

How do you do it?

Check out “Things to do in Jerusalem” the Facebook group and online calendar where I share the best of cultural Jerusalem. The goal of this venture is to make local culture accessible to English speakers (and whoever can read English) – both residents and visitors.

You’re also welcome to drop me a line if you have any specific questions.

In future posts I’ll share ideas of how to get the most out of cultural Jerusalem.

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