In 1974 I was sent to Jerusalem by Time/Life Books who wanted to put out a series of “Great Cities” books. They didn’t know if it would fly so they asked me to shoot for a few days and come back and edit the film. The way this worked is that they designed a mailer, sent it out to thousands of people and waited.
There was enough positive responses to satisfy them so they sent me back for six weeks to shoot the book.
This was in many ways the most depressing assignment I ever had.
The Arabs really don’t want to be photographed.
The Israelis unabashedly pose for you.
The religious Jews (Hasidim) definitely didn’t want to be photographed.
The Christians were boring.
The weather was terrible.
And the food was awful.
The first shot I took was of a Druse police officer–he jumped up and started yelling at me that I was trying to make him look bad.
And so it went. As you know, no matter how bad things are, you persevere. I have always thought the secret is just “putting in the time.” Plodding through the crap.
The food never got great but gradually I found better places to eat. It was December and the light was dim but the sun did start to come out and I got used to working with the people, or they got used to me. I’m not sure which it was.
It was amazing to be walking in, through, and on history. Stations of the Cross, The Dome of the Rock–one of the holiest places of Islam.
To give you an idea of my travails, the Dome of the Rock contains the rock from which Mohammed left this world. Holy place indeed.
Three guesses what dumb photographer dropped his irreplaceable lens cap on the said rock?
I looked up at the guard on duty, apologizing profusely. He stared at me, gave a world-weary sigh, then motioned me to go get it.
I knew a journalist, name Dan Drooz, who acted part time as my guide and driver. We had heard from many people that once or twice a year (if that) there was an amazing light that appeared only in Jerusalem, but it only lasted a very short time. I heard but didn’t quite believe it. Then one day it did happen: Jerusalem is mostly built of limestone and it did glow and it was marvelous but I needed to get to where I could see it at a distance. Cut to Dan: Driving wildly to find a point of view with me telling him to go this way, now left, now right.
Did I mention that I have, together with my entire family, including my mother and father, the world’s worst sense of direction?
Inevitably I told him to make a turn that led us into a courtyard of a a group of homes where we dropped our car’s front wheel into a deep hole. We were stuck.
An older Arabic woman came out of one of the houses and started screaming. Dan tried to talk with her but she only ran into her house.
A minute passed and suddenly six of the biggest Arab guys I have ever seen come out toward us and one says in English, “Why are you stuck in our courtyard with a wheel in the hole? Come in and have tea.”
We thanked him but explained about the light. Without another word he motioned to his group; they suddenly surrounded the car and picked the damn thing up and moved it to level ground.
Dan’s jaw and mine were so open with awe, they started laughing and wishing us luck in our quest. Off we went.
Of course by the time we got out the light was gone, never to be seen again.
On bad weather days I would go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is one of the holiest churches in Christendom.
Various religions share the church, which is a warren of rooms, staircases, and what have you. They include Eastern Orthodox, Armenian, Franciscans, Syrian, Copts, and Abyssinians who live on the roof, and many more.
On good days I wandered: The Western (or Wailing) Wall, the schools, the markets, the kids, and everything and anybody that didn’t chase me off, and some that did.
It ended up being a great experience and I’m so glad to get a chance to share it with you. Perhaps it will be a new book someday soon.