A Return Visit To Jerusalem

Old city of Jerusalem

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I spent the summer of 1976 as a kibbutz volunteer in the far north of Israel. While I was there I travelled around the country, visiting Jerusalem, Haifa, the Golan Heights and many other places. It was one of my first ever foreign trips and I’ve never forgotten the impact Jerusalem had upon me – it has always featured in my mental list of “top 5 cities in the world”.

A travel writers’ conference in Jerusalem was the ideal opportunity for a return trip, but I was full of questions. Would I still love Jerusalem just as much when I had so many more places to compare it with? And how would the country have changed since my last visit?

Israel Then And Now

The picture below is of me outside the Damascus Gate, when I was very much younger…

Damascus Gate, Jerusalem

Although I remember Jerusalem as magical, my experiences on that earlier visit were not wholly positive. One thing I recall vividly was the level of harassment I was subject to, whether I was on my own or travelling with others. A problem that was exacerbated by the fact that local women seemed to be absent from the streets of the towns and cities.

Of course, the world has moved on since 1976, and my perception is that this has now changed significantly. In Jerusalem at least, women now walk the streets as freely as men. And one of our tour guides, a young(ish) resident of the city, told me she always felt safe wherever she went in Jerusalem.

Then there was the political situation. I feel that this is both better and worse now than it was back then. Worse in the sense that in 1976 there were no security walls or fences, and you could travel to places like Bethlehem or Hebron without any need for passports or checkpoints.

Old city of Jerusalem
The narrow streets of the old city of Jerusalem look as if they haven’t changed for centuries

But in some ways better. There is still a considerable amount of mistrust and suspicion between Israelis and Palestinians, and between different religious and political groups. And there are still rights and wrongs on both sides. But this time I met people who were willing to look at all aspects of the situation, and I saw evidence of initiatives to break down barriers. (Read more about the amazing diversity of Jerusalem.)


Discovering Jerusalem’s Food And Culture

I am no longer a penniless student, so the comparison may not be entirely fair, but it seems to me that one thing that has improved immeasurably is the food. Especially for vegetarians: I remember eating little other than salad and falafel last time. (Read more about Eating out in Jerusalem.)

David Citadel, Jerusalem
Old and new: a modern light show at the 2,000 year old Citadel of David

And there is now a thriving modern cultural scene, with bars, restaurants and luxury hotels. There are Innovative museums, trendy shopping centres, and colourful street art. Other things have changed too: Jerusalem is much cleaner than it was in 1976, but it is also much more crowded.

Teddy Park, Jerusalem
A modern sculpture in Teddy Park, very close to the old town

Jerusalem: A Modern City Destination

Of course, tourists still flock to the old city of Jerusalem, as a place of religious pilgrimage, or to discover 3,000 years of history. But, as with any other modern city destination, they also come for food and shopping, culture and relaxation. And to explore the surrounding towns and countryside.

Pinnable image of a man walking through an archway in the old city of Jerusalem
Pinnable image of the old city Armenian quarter

For myself, despite the crowds, Jerusalem was still a place of mystique and inspiration. I enjoyed revisiting familiar sites, and discovering new ones. There was a walk around the old city walls, an exploration of the street art, and the sculptures of the Billy Rose Art Garden. And a fascinating insight into traditional Jewish culture at Shabbat of a Lifetime.

I was a little disappointed that I didn’t find time to travel further afield, particularly into the Palestinian territories. But there is always next time…


12 thoughts on “A Return Visit To Jerusalem”

  1. It must have been fascinating to see the changes that have occurred over the last 40 years as well as take a literal walk down memory lane in Jerusalem. And I was heartened to hear that, although there is still a lot of suspicion between the religions, you saw some signs that were positive and attempts to work together. I imagine, even for a nonbeliever like me, that Israel would still hold a considerable aura of mystique and your post has made me move the country up several spots on my “Must See” list!

  2. it is always interesting returning to places after such a long time away. I am happy to hear people seem happy to see both sides of the issues there as that really is the way forward for the region to move toward peace. I look forward to your other posts.

  3. Hey Karen,
    It’s great to be able to go back on trips and have a comparison. I hope to do the same in a few countries including Argentina where I studied abroad. And yes like you the difference between having a paying job versus being a penniless student will make a huge difference. In a lot of places I imagine the difference in women’s rights and other marginalized groups has changed a lot. Let’s hope we continue this trend moving forward! Thanks for the post.

    1. Hi Mark, thanks for commenting. This is the first time I’ve been back to a place after such a long gap, but I recommend it. Hope you manage to revisit Argentina!

  4. Really enjoyed the comparison of your two trips and your perspective on today’s Jerusalem. Nice you didn’t have to return penniless! Looking forward to reading more about Israel and TBEX!

  5. It must be amazing to be able to see an analyze a city like Jerusalem 40 years later. Yeah, unfortunately, everything changed after the second intifada in 2001 – 2002 but, where you see the most dramatic change is in the different cities and villages within the West Bank, especially those cities which are close to the border. Two days ago, I visited Qalqylia, a Palestinian town located next to the border with Israel, very close to Tel Aviv. This is one of the most affected localities after the construction of the separation wall , as it surrounds the village almost entirely, drowning Qalqylia’s economy.

  6. I’m intrigued now – where did you volunteer? I was also on a kibbutz in the far north, albeit 10 years after you. I have such wonderful memories of my time in Israel (I ended up living there for over 2 years), that I’m hesitant to return now in case it spoils all those memories. Glad you found lots of positives on your return and it seems like you enjoyed your time there. Maybe I should return …

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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