Season 1
Episode 16: Jerusalem – Part 2: The Fence Liers

Using art to get to the other side.

With a map given to them by Israel’s biggest hip-hop star, Sha’anan Street, Neil and Andrés cross the Green Line to meet the artists and entrepreneurs remaking Jerusalem and redefining the city’s culture in the face of danger, violence, division.

In part two of our journey to Jerusalem we cross the Green Line and talk to some remarkable people. An artist whose family roots in the city go back over 1000 years, but who still doesn’t qualify for a passport. An Amenian Jerusalemite, one of the city’s smallest minorities, whose work has crossed boundaries. And two Israeli entrepreneurs who found a novel way to create a safe space, free of soldiers.  Plus, we hear the true story behind the Casino de Paris and what it was like to live in a neighborhood plagued by suicide bombers.  

Also, we’ll have some blissfully good meals – but that almost seems beside the point.  This episode is about what it truly means to be from Jerusalem.

MORE TO EXPLORE

SAVED PINS

Four little landmarks that make a big impression and one that’s larger than life.

  1. AZURA
     Pots of slow cooked meat, stews and sauces – Jerusalem soul food so good it may take you a day to recover from the most delightful food coma of your life.
  2. ALLIANCE HOUSE
    A former school turned artists haven… part co-working space, part Berlin nightclub.  It may well be gone in the years to come,  so go see it while you can.
  3. CLAL CENTER
    A super cool triple threat bar, studio, and live space with live shows –  sometimes two – every night.
  4. GALLERY CAFE
    Delicious, and super strong, coffee from one of the best cafes in East Jerusalem. A perfect pick-me-up to enjoy in their big front garden, or on the go.
  5. THE MAHANE YEHUDA MARKET
    One of our favorite markets anywhere. A whirling beautiful mess of noise and colour. Be prepared to haggle or take a big old bag of shekels, they can smell tourists, even over the thousands of aromas in this bustling and brilliant place. 

CONNECT WITH US!

On Instagram: @passportpodcast

On Facebook: @passportpod

On Twitter: @passportpod

On The Web: frequencymachine.com/passport

Get The Ticket – the Passport newsletter with amazing new stories. 

CONNECT WITH OUR GUESTS!

Sha’anan Streett: on Facebook

Ariel Snapir: on Facebook

Apo Sahagian: on Instagram and Facebook

Subhi Dajani: on Facebook

This episode of Passport was written and produced by Neil Innes and Andrés Bartos.

Huge thanks to Aisha Prigann, Dave Bianchi, Ariel Snapiri, Apo Sahagian, Noam Kuzar, Subhi Djajani, Sha’anan Streett, Carmi Wurtman and all of the people we met on this trip.  

All of our amazing music on this episode was created by our good friend and musical chameleon Nick Turner. Additional stuff by El Khat and Hadag Nahash. 

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.

Our Production Assistant is Eliza Engel 

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari, and Avi Glijansky are our Rabbis, Priests and Gurus… they also Executive Produce the show. 

Which is hosted by Neil Innes and the mysterious Andrés Bartos.

We’ll see you in the next place!

 

Banner images:
Street Musicians in The Shuk, photo by gpo1961 via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Jerusalem, photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

EPISODE 16 – TRANSCRIPT

NEIL: Hey guys. So Andrés and I took our first trip together out of the country in 2019 before the COVID pandemic. So this takes place in the before times when life felt a little bit more normal. So that’s why this episode, these, these two episodes, are incredibly important to us.

Much love to all of the friends we made in Jerusalem. Hope you’re all safe. This one’s for you and for you and you, and you. Welcome to the show.

If you haven’t, go back and listen to part one, if you have, here’s a recap.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Me and Andrés took our first trip together to Israel to visit Jerusalem.

ANDRÉS: Holy shit. Can I curse? I forgot if I can curse.

We were invited by Sha’anan Streett. Israel’s biggest hip-hop star who opened one of the first bars in the Mehane Yehuda market in Western Jerusalem.

Should we go into the crazy?

NEIL: Let’s go into the crazy. Okay.

ANDRÉS: When he opened the bar, the market was a really different place. Bombs, drugs, prostitution.

SHA’ANAN: There always has to have been people that said, fuck this bullshit. Let’s go get pissed.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Now it’s a hip tourist destination, and Sha’anan had set us up to meet some of his friends, other artists and musicians who are reshaping the city. We’re going to meet them and try and find out if you really can overcome this eternally divided city, simply by being creative.

ANDRÉS: Some of these friends are in East Jerusalem.

The other side of a city filled with complicated and sometimes invisible boundaries and walls and borders. So that’s where we’re headed in this week’s episode.

[PASSPORT MAIN TITLE]

ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.

NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.

I’m Neil Innes

ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.

NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.

ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.

[END MAIN TITLE]

[Song playing]

NEIL: Me and Andrés are in Jerusalem and today we’re crossing the green line, an invisible division between East and West, armed with a map given to us by Sha’anan Streett, one of Israel’s most famous musicians.

He had put us in touch with a friend, a friend with roots going back thousands of years, but from a completely different perspective, a Palestinian perspective.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: We walked through Mea Sha’arim, an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood on the Sabbath, not quite knowing what to expect. It was like every family was out on the street, children playing in wooden go-karts, tall, imposing, bearded men. We felt somehow like we were eavesdropping on something secret.

NEIL: You know what, I’m going to stop recording.

So we kept going, quickly, to the green line.

It felt like a movie set. There was no sound except for kids playing, which always creeps me out.

ANDRÉS: And everyone looking at us cause we’re the frigging weird ones.

NEIL: Yeah, we’re the weirdos.

ANDRÉS: We very quickly realized that it was a very bad idea to try to record in the middle of this. And yeah, we felt like we were invading something very private.

NEIL: We kind of didn’t know where we were going. Like we were going to East Jerusalem. We didn’t know what,

ANDRÉS: what that meant

NEIL: A checkpoint or like a gate.

ANDRÉS: But it was that thing where you were kind of on this broad avenue walking right in the middle of the street where the cars would be kind of watching this whole scene go by.

And then at one point we turned, the avenue is much broader and still deserted, but then in the distance you could see one road with traffic.

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: And that was the border.

NEIL: That was the line.

ANDRÉS: That was the line right there.

NEIL: Get to the other side of the traffic lights and everything was in Arabic.

ANDRÉS: From one street corner to the next, suddenly we were in Morocco.

[Song playing]

NEIL: We headed to The Gallery Cafe, a cool and quiet little spot near the American Colony in East Jerusalem to meet SUBHI Djajani. A pressed white shirt, tall and thoughtful. He smokes a lot and laughs a lot too.

Born and raised in the East, SUBHI’s heritage in Jerusalem is ancient. His knowledge of the city runs deep, but even for a real Jerusalemite, we’d soon learn, like many things in Jerusalem, nothing is ever simple. It’s layers upon layers upon layers.

SUBHI: I want to compare it as, as an onion for three reasons. One for the layers, one for the make you cry. And third for the smell.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: That’s great.

The East feels like a different place entirely. This invisible wall, suddenly the cars, bump bump, bump, cross a wall and were like, oh, huh.

SUBHI: Where am I? I am in a different country now?

ANDRÉS: Exactly.

SUBHI: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: Exactly. One street.

SUBHI: It’s this road like passes near the old city. The old city itself, we have the four quarters. So, you know, the Armenian quarter and of course, Jewish quarter, uh, the Muslim quarter and Christian quarter. Most of my, my family, for example, came from old city.

ANDRÉS: They were living there?

SUBHI: Maybe 1000 years.

ANDRÉS: What! Get the fuck out of here.

SUBHI: I have the big tree. I can show you the big tree. I can show it to you.

ANDRÉS: You have a big tree? You have it here?

NEIL: At this point, Subhi pulls out his phone and shows us a family tree that looks more like a forest.

SUBHI: I try to make it as much as clear as possible.

ANDRÉS: Woah. Okay, we’re looking at, um, it looks, it looks like a labyrinth.

NEIL: The biggest fucking tree I’ve ever seen in my life.

SUBHI: I don’t know. But I’m somewhere here.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: A thousand years of family living in the same walled city. Subhi’s heritage was right there, clear as day on the screen. And then just like Jerusalem can do many times a day, it made things complicated.

We asked Subhi about his military service time, which is still compulsory for all Israelis.

SUBHI: I’m not Israeli.

ANDRÉS: Well, that’s the first question, are you Israeli?

[Laughing]

SUBHI: So, you have the whole country of Israel, and you have Palestine, everything. West Bank, Gaza, these are the Palestinian, right? So, Jerusalem is a, is actually another country, some kind.

So, if you asked me what I am, I will tell you Jerusalemite because I don’t hold Israeli passport. I’m Palestinian in like, if you want to call it, yeah, Palestinian, but it’s, I think I see myself more as Jerusalem than anything else.

Uh, I don’t hold a Palestinian passport. I don’t hold Israeli passport. All of, most of Jerusalemites who doesn’t have a passport, who doesn’t have Israeli, they have Jordanian, but they’re not Jordanian. Ho, ho.

I’m here, my family has been here 1000 years.

ANDRÉS: That’s what I was going to say. That’s so crazy.

SUBHI: Yeah. So it’s really complicated.

NEIL: I feel like we’re in inception.

[Laughter]

NEIL: We’ve actually only been sitting here for 60 seconds. We’re like so many levels down.

ANDRÉS: Subhi was a film freak growing up. He watched everything that he could get his hands on and fell in love with computing and visual effects in Paris, where he was studying, with a travel permit, of course.

Short films, movies and music videos are Subhi’s passion.

SUBHI: Thank God. I love it. I love my work. I really love it.

ANDRÉS: Why do you love it so much? What do you love about it?

SUBHI: The limit is actually basically is your brain.

NEIL: He’s trying to create a world in East Jerusalem too. One that doesn’t quite exist yet.

SUBHI: In East Jerusalem, we don’t have concerts.

NEIL: In the East, they don’t have concerts. It’s so strange. They don’t even have cinemas. The Intifadas or uprisings in Israel have defined the country in modern times. The conflicts between Israel and Palestine in the occupied areas was devastating. 1987 to 1993 and then again from 2000 to 2005 saw incidents which increased bombing and violence on both sides.

Jerusalem suffered huge cultural losses, too. Concert venues, bars and cinemas were closed down and they never quite recovered.

ANDRÉS: But it’s coming back. Or at least it’s trying. Subhi is trying. Like most people we talked to in Jerusalem, Subhi also has a multitude of jobs, including being a concert promoter, trying to bring bands back to the East.

SUBHI: People miss this. They miss the culture. They miss the, the, the, the dynamic, the art and everything. And you have different artists. I mean, if I can talk about artists from painters to photograph, to videograph, to music, to dance.

And I mean, I have a lot of friends it’s, you know, it’s like a community of artists.

ANDRÉS: So you feel, do you feel like responsible or you have this interest to bring it back? Or where do you see yourself in this?

SUBHI: It’s, part of it, it is my city. I want to revive it. I’m part of it. I don’t say mine. It’s more of, I’m part of it.

So, if it’s dead then part of me is dead. It’s important to revive it, to show, to show really what is Jerusalem.

NEIL: Part of your, uh, your view of like going into 3DStudioMax and having, like, being able to create any world you want?

SUBHI: Yeah.

NEIL: You’re kind of trying to do it in real life now.

SUBHI: Exactly.

[Song playing]

NEIL: We discovered that in East Jerusalem, even after 1000 years of living in the same part of the city, your nationality can still be a complicated, almost impossible, matter.

In the old city, there are minorities within minorities, within a city inside a city. Smaller and smaller divisions of people, all holding onto a piece of Jerusalem. It’s past, it’s present and it’s future.

Sha’anan had told us that if we wanted to hear a unique perspective, we needed to speak to somebody from one of the smallest groups in Jerusalem. Because to understand this place, you need to go beyond the broad strokes.

ANDRÉS: The feeling changed again, as we approached the ominous Damascus Gate and headed into the maze of the Old City. The stone streets are smoothed from centuries of pedestrian traffic, including, well, the son of God. The stones are smoothed down so much that every few years the municipality has to chisel down the rock to make it rough and walkable again. Uncovering layers and layers and layers.

The Old City contains some of the world’s most iconic landmarks. The wailing wall is here. The church of the Holy Sepulchre is here, the dome of the rock. The age and importance of it hits you like a ton of bricks.

APO: Can you hear the siren, the ambulance? Welcome to Jerusalem.

NEIL: Apo Sahagian is a writer and musician born and bred in the Armenian quarter in the old city. He’s one of only 700 there. He doesn’t look or smell like an onion. In fact, he’s tall, dark, kind of handsome, sharp, worldly, and has just the right amount of edge.

APO: I am an Armenian born and bred in Jerusalem, specifically in the Armenian quarter.

And, uh, we are right now at the Austrian Hospice in the Muslim quarter. I think that these two sentences, I just went through a lot of cultures right there for you.

But we’re in the Austrian Hospice, that used to be the Hungarian Austrian Hospice until the empire fell and the Austrians kicked the Hungarians out.

ANDRÉS: Apo studied political sciences at university and after working for an NGO in what he terms the peace business, he formed a band. Apo and the Apostles.

APO: It was started by a Canadian, an Australian, me and two Palestinians from Bethlehem. But I had a song that I had written in Arabic and we released a song and it became a hit. And, uh, and I started to realize that a lot of people took notice and, uh, people do like to know public figures or popular figures and I’d become one, I had become a public figure, sort of.

People around here that have a political seat don’t mind knowing somebody from the art world that is known.

NEIL: He turns to politics a lot, something that we had noticed other people here seemed uneasy to talk too much about.

APO: There are bubbles here, right? There are cliques here. As there are in Berlin and London, in Barcelona, too. The problem here is that the bubbles usually fight to claim the city as their own. This city is my city. This is not your city. You should not be here. You should not be there. You know, it’s a, the city needs to be better.

I mean, there are a lot of injustices in the city. There are a lot of imbalances. Finding people from whatever spectrum, whatever walk of life that live here and they, and I don’t feel like they are contributing to the imbalance. I don’t mind finding a, I don’t know, a friendship with them or something to do with them, finding work with them because at the end of the day, not they’re making the city better, they’re just not making a shittier.

[Laughter]

NEIL: It was beautiful. I’m thinking just about.

APO: Woah. You’re screwed. You got to stop.

ANDRÉS: So this is the call to prayer?

APO: This is God speaking.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: This here is God speaking.

APO: All the white evangelists in the world. God speaks Arabic, I’m sorry.

[Laughter]

NEIL: The Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, happens five times a day from dawn to dusk. It can last for up to half an hour.

ANDRÉS: What do you, what are you thinking right now, Neil?

NEIL: I’m thinking about an idea of God in another country. And I’m trying to relate to him.

APO: You are in the right place to think about God. He walked these streets, you know. You know, that was a funny thing. When you go to Budapest or to Europe, uh, you know, people have this, uh, ideal of Jerusalem, right. And you tell them you’re from Jerusalem, and they’re like, isn’t that where Jesus walked and I’m like, yeah, but that’s also where I pissed when I was very drunk at night.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Wow. With the call to prayer in the background.

APO: You just shut away their, their romantic, uh, impression of Jerusalem as if nobody lives here. People live here. We do things where the gods have walked.

NEIL: Dealing everyday with a place overshadowed by history and religion and politics, Apo seems to know how to have fun.

APO: I like arts. I would never go into anything that’s not our artistic or literary.

That’s what I like to, when I wake up in the morning, I like to take my guitar and play or open up my laptop and write. You know, that’s what I like to do. I don’t think I’d take it to any place else.

But again, look. There is power in what we do. And, uh, and in this time when the politics or the political vision has failed, uh, culture has sort of become the substitute where people find their voice. That is the role of culture at the moment, you know, and I don’t mind being, uh, you know, I don’t mind contributing to that.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: It was time to soak up a little of that culture. We headed back to the West with Apo guiding us out of the maze of the old town. It was beer time. And where did Apo take us? Back to the Sira Pub. The bar and cafe where we interviewed Sha’anan earlier, a place which is open to all, no matter which side of the green line you were from. Subhi joined us.

NEIL: An Armenian Orthodox Epistolic Christian, a self-proclaimed Jerusalem countryman with no passport, a godless Hungarian Bolivian, and a British Danish Australian sit down in Jerusalem for a beer. Yeah, write the punchline to that joke.

[Song playing]

NEIL: After the break, the company helping artists with the worst part about being an artist and Ariel Snapiri puts everything into sharp, sharp focus. We’ll be back in a sec.

[Song playing]

NEIL: For me an Andrés, it was becoming weirder, but clearer in a city that is not just ideologically divided, but geographically divided. Culture was trying where politics had failed. Great art like any is emphatic. It can really show people that they’re more similar than they are different. And in Jerusalem you can live in the bubbles or you can live above them and see what’s happening in all of them.

That’s what we saw sitting outside Sira that night, but can you truly transcend and overcome the most complicated political morass on earth? I mean, is that even possible?

ANDRÉS: In the morning, a little worse for wear, we headed to see Noam Kuzar, someone who is helping artists transcend and overcome something else. Something truly all consuming, complicated and frustrating. Paperwork.

[Song playing]

NOAM: My name is Noam. I was born and raised in Jerusalem and we are in the studio for art and bureaucracy, which is the center of Bar-kayma NGO. Bar-kayma – Sustainability for Art Culture, Music, and Peace.

NEIL: We know, it sounds complicated, but Noam’s business is actually a simple and great idea. He and his wife, Lidia help and connect artists in Jerusalem. Their NGO provides help with every aspect of creating and running cultural projects in the city.

And what kind of projects have you, have you been doing recently?

NOAM: So we have a few venues. We have Barbur art gallery, which is an art gallery that’s been operating in Nakhalat for 15 years. It’s a community.

NEIL: Noam goes on and on and on. The kinds of artists that have come to him and Lidia for help range from musicians to dance groups and gardeners, operas, and street performers to rock bands and whole theater groups.

It’s had an incredible impact on the artistic community. So much so that someone wrote his doctorate on Noam and Lidia’s business model.

NOAM: So this is a doctorate that someone wrote about the way we, uh,

ANDRÉS: Hard back, blue book, the impact of a crowdsourcing apparatus on organizational capacity in the nonprofit context, the case of Bar-Kayma.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: It’s sprawling, first of all, we need you in Barcelona, we need you guys to move to Barcelona.

It’s obvious for us sitting there with Noam that there’s an insane amount of work. Noam tells us why Jerusalem is a good place to problem solve for the growing cultural scene.

NOAM: Uh, Jerusalem is a unique place and it has its unique communities, people and situation, mainly in terms of, uh, problems, that’s where also creativity sometimes kicks in between different people and cultures and communities and thoughts and ideas that, uh, new and creative ways of, uh, of, uh, solving problems arrives here.

NEIL: And where did the seed of all this start? In a bar with Mr. Sha’anan Streett. Professional fence liar.

NOAM: Lidia was the owner of Diwan pub, which was one of the only pups during the days of the Intifada. Sha’anan worked there and he taught her out to work in a pub. And after a while she bought it and became his boss, I think. And the place was, uh, creating more culture than selling beer. It was one of the only two places in Jerusalem with a turntable.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Having fun in a troubling time, a constant in Jerusalem. Poetically, it was the trouble during the Intifada that inspired Noam and Lidia to get creative. Because this bar was inclusive to all, Arabs, Muslims, Jews, it didn’t make any sense to have another guard. Another barrier, another man with a gun standing in front of, well, just fun.

NOAM: It didn’t make sense to have another checkpoint or to have a weapon in an alcoholic environment. And we didn’t know much about bureaucracy back then, but we said if maybe we open an NGO, then it’s not a business and we can continue operating around the culture.

ANDRÉS: Classifying a pub as an NGO to get rid of a man with a gun.

Man, that’s the power of paperwork in action, literally reducing danger by being creative during a time when the city was shrouded in it. What a beautiful thing.

NEIL: You’ve got an eye on everything cultural in the city. Like what makes it important for you to be creative?

NOAM: Like the tagline would be that art connects people where politics divides them.

NEIL: The Diwan pub closed in 2005. But it was reopened shortly after with a different name. Sira. The very same place we interviewed Sha’anan and where we drank with Apo and Subhi.

Noam and Lidia pretty much shelved the NGO. Noam ran a cultural fanzine through it, but that was pretty much it until 2011, when they got so fed up with hearing from friends about the difficulty of working as an artist in Jerusalem.

NOAM: We decided, we said, hey, there’s this NGO we have in the closet we opened. Let’s start operating and see what people need.

ANDRÉS: The studio for art and bureaucracy now has a roster of 20 separate project managers. Each of those has a team of between two and 15. All in all, they have nearly 1000 artists who they help throughout the city. All from one piece of paperwork to get around having a soldier with a gun in a pub where he wasn’t wanted.

Is Noam a fence liar?

NOAM: The best tool for dealing with bureaucracy and authority is that the realization that you are a free person. And then there’s only obstacles. You put enough paper on the barbed wire, then you don’t have to lie over it.

[Laughter]

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: The next day, the sun beating down, the market is as insane as ever. We made one last call. One of Sha’anan closest friends, Ariel Snapiri is a filmmaker, cameraman, and ex-soldier and ex ish skater.

He worked for many years for Sky Television, covering the Intifada, being creative and level-headed in some incredibly intense situations.

Ariel works from the Alliance building in the parking lot of a market where me and Neil spent our first evening in Jerusalem watching those two very different bands.

NEIL: There he is.

ANDRÉS: The man, the legend.

NEIL: The kebab master.

ANDRÉS: How’s it going, man?

ARIEL: Good, good.

NEIL: You got some arts.

ARIEL: Yeah.

NEIL: His office in the basement of Alliance fits about 10 people and it’s filled with old analog equipment. VHS, beta, super eight cameras. I don’t know how many vintage televisions. We set up on a sofa and behind us is a pile of about 20 TVs.

Tell me about Sha’anan. 

ARIEL: A good friend for a long time now. Uh, we met through, I think his first pub and I used to sit there all the time when I was still a soldier in the army.

NEIL: Snapiri has traveled a lot, but he always comes back to Jerusalem. He likes the resilience of the people here.

ANDRÉS: You think you have to be tougher here or what?

ARIEL: Yeah. Here you live among people who are very different from you. And it’s kind of a third for each part of the population. A third Arabs, third ultra-Orthodox and third secular religious and all the rest of them.

As a secular Jew, well, I’m kind of a minority here. In Tel Aviv, I would be, you know, the complete majority of the population, like 90%. So it’s very different cause they think they’re, you know, open minded and everything, but it’s very easy to be openminded when everyone around you are the same as you. So, I think Jerusalem is a lot more progressive than people would imagine.

NEIL: Ariel comes from another universally tight subculture. Another you might not associate with Jerusalem’s ancient cobble streets.

ANDRÉS: And you were a skater?

ARIEL: Yeah. That connects also to street art because a lot of the punks and the graffiti artists in Jerusalem were from the same kind of communities.

NEIL: When we met Ariel at the door of Alliance, he was carrying a piece of graffitied wood.

ARIEL: That’s how I got interested in street art. So the piece you saw me bringing, that’s from two guys who are younger, two, three generations behind me, but very talented.

Now I just arranged a, their first, uh, show in, uh, in a gallery.

NEIL: How many jobs do you people have?

ARIEL: Yeah, none of them pay very well. So you have to do it all.

ANDRÉS: Ariel certainly looked for release from his job pressures to find communities of artists. He takes us back to his days working as a Sky News cameraman.

He was constantly in some very real danger.

ARIEL: Then I was in Brussels and a terror attack at the airport, I was at the airport when it happened.

ANDRÉS: What?

NEIL: In March of 2016 ISIL claimed responsibility for three coordinated suicide bombings. Two at the check-in stands at Brussels Airport and one at the Maalbeek Metro station in the city center.

ARIEL: We went through the airport, we went down to the duty free. I went to the loo and then heard an explosion right above my head. And it’s, it was the check-in stands where we were like 10 minutes before. It was the same ones to the flight to Tel Aviv.

NEIL: 32 people were killed and 300 injured.

ANDRÉS: How did you react?

ARIEL: Quickly and professionally, cause that’s what I do, and I’ve been to a lot of bombings in Israel as well.

ANDRÉS: Suddenly me and Neil started to realize that Ariel was in a strange way, changing the meaning of everything we had learned about living in Jerusalem. Asking people about fun in the city and whether or not it means something different here, somehow it was more important. Art, culture, music, filmmaking, even Sha’anan’s bar suddenly felt much, much more like a release. Like a necessity.

NEIL: Being here for all that time, was Brussels the closest you got to proper danger or,

ARIEL: Oh no.

NEIL: No? In 1997, the time between Intifadas, Sha’anan, Ariel and some other friends came very, very close to danger.

ARIEL: It was really crazy. Me and Sha’anan were, we, I was working at a cafe as a waiter and he was one of the customers that day. And, uh, there was a triple suicide bombing. Like I heard one bomb go off, really close to the cafe. And then I started running out to, to give help. And then there was another bombing, so I start running slower. And then there was another bombing behind, like took three corners and it was really properly planned and strategic and shit. So it was really crazy. And you know, it was very crazy back then.

Yeah. And that night, like I remember going to Sha’anan’s pub, like I went home and then I couldn’t sleep cause it was really, you know, you see some shit, the bomber’s head was on a pedestal in the middle of the street, was crazy.

And I went to the pub and I was like, and a lot of people came, and you know, were like, fuck that, we’re never sleeping again. Just drink, like

ANDRÉS: Drink yourself to sleep basically.

ARIEL: And that’s how it went back then. And then I decided I had enough, cause it was like weekly back at the time. Cause everyone’s here and back then for sure, but post trauma, PTSD kinda in a way they say it all, everyone in Israel has it in some form.

NEIL: And it suddenly felt so strange.

Myself and Andrés had spent six days so far in Jerusalem trying to get to the bottom of it and what it means to have fun in the oldest, the most complicated city on earth, but we can’t stress this enough, we never, ever not for one second felt unsafe or unwanted.

Everyone we had met during our time there, were always looking to hang out. They were always happy to talk and to laugh, to educate, recommend and debate. Jerusalem, no matter how complicated, to us it felt open and warm.

[Song playing]

ARIEL: It’s the Middle East, in general, people are more open and welcoming. I think it’s a kind of part of the culture here but living somewhere and having a tight scene and with outsiders coming and going all the time. Then, you know, you know, you know, people are coming, but you know, they’re also gonna leave in a couple of months, a couple of years.

NEIL: So you’re not going to miss us when we’re gone?

ARIEL: I’m not, you know, unless you…

ANDRÉS: He doesn’t even know our names anymore.

ARIEL: I’m very bad with names.

[Laughter]

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: Sha’anan Streett started a wave of change when he opened a bar in a place which had been turned upside down and made ugly.

He and the friends we made on this trip showed us an incredible mix of human beings from all different backgrounds, all living in the same city with one common goal: to redefine what it means to be from Jerusalem. By living above the bubbles, the cliché and the clicks, by being creative.

NEIL: The cultural scene of Jerusalem is different, is more different, than anywhere else in the world. At least anywhere else we’ve ever been.

The art scene and the music scene in Jerusalem isn’t just a safe place, it’s a necessary one. It’s vital. Art connects where politics divide.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Before we drove back to Tel Aviv airport for a late flight, there was one last thing for us to do. Our last port of call was the Casino De Paris, Sha’anan’s bar, to sit and to thank him and to have a beer.

[People talking]

SHA’ANAN: The core essence of Jerusalem is historical. And the core essence of Israeliness is now, present.

Israel is, uh, people from literally all over the world. Africa to Australia, arriving at one spot with a need that all humans have to communicate. It has the weight of history from 3000 years ago, but it’s missing 3000 years of communication.

In order to manage the situation, we need to be creative.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: It’s quite a trip. I’m glad we did. I’m glad you surprised me.

NEIL: I’m going to do it again.

ANDRÉS: Uh oh.

NEIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: I’m scared. Are we going to North Korea?

[Laughter]

NEIL: Man. Do you think about it? Do you have a little bit of the Jerusalem syndrome?

ANDRÉS: I do think about Jerusalem. The sounds, the smells, the food, the fact of everybody’s kind of generosity and it felt, you know, even though we kind of wove in and out of these different little worlds, it always felt like they were trying to show us something and they want it to give us a part of that city that most people don’t know about

NEIL: Yeah, we made some good, good friends. I think about us sitting on the terrace, overlooking the market.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

NEIL: And watching people almost get hit by the trams.

ANDRÉS: Toddlers, children, kids on bikes, teens…

NEIL: No barriers, no railings,

ANDRÉS: Nothing.

NEIL: And then I was sort of thinking to myself, like if you’ve lived through that sort of stuff in that neighborhood, I wouldn’t give a fuck about a tram either.

ANDRÉS: Yeah, a tram doesn’t do anything. Step off the track.

NEIL: The other moment I remember as well, which kind of, uh, it sticks in my mind now after having gone through, gone through and put this thing together is, uh, if you put one Jerusalemite in a room, you get two opinions.

ANDRÉS: Right.

NEIL: And that is how everything that we encountered in Jerusalem was. It was, there was the thing in front of you that you could see. And then immediately though there was, there was something more complicated and weird right underneath it. That’s Jerusalem. There’s like, there’s the way and then there’s this little, like…

ANDRÉS: We’ve been here a long time.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Magic, it really is.

[Song playing]

NEIL: So wait, um, it’s time for a coda. Is that the right word or an epilogue? I’m not sure. Are they the same thing?

Anyway, since last year, a lot has happened in the world. Coronavirus has devastated it. Lives and the economy. And one of the first things to suffer in a downturn like this is small businesses. One day last month, in July of 2020, I saw a post from Sha’anan on social media, a post I’d been fearing.

I’d been fearing it from a lot of friends who were small business owners. The bar that changed the neighborhood was closing. I guess it’s because of the circumstances of the trip to Jerusalem. When it happened, why it happened, but since the disaster that is 2020, we thought Sha’anan might be able to give us a little bit of that old hip hop wisdom.

So we called him to talk and he did.

SHA’ANAN: Hello, hello

ANDRÉS: There we go. Aw, man.

NEIL: So Sha’anan man, we got to ask you about the casino, dude.

ANDRÉS: Yeah, what happened to the casino buddy?

SHA’ANAN: So you know, I don’t remember if we spoke about this. But it was never like a super good business. In Israel it’s a very tough business. Nightlife in general and bars and it just became too much, it became too difficult.

Like I told a bunch of friends, it became a hobby that’s way too expensive. And uh, I called Ellie and said, you know, I think, to be honest I think may have had enough. I think it may have been enough.

We had a good run. We sat all together and decided to have a three-day party. Three day going away party.

[Laughter]

SHA’ANAN: Three, two-hour slots with fifty people each for three days.

ANDRÉS: That’s amazing, like a little music festival.

NEIL: Yeah, session drinkers.

SHA’ANAN: It was great, it was great. People told us, do this next weekend. Say that not enough people said goodbye, we’ll buy more tickets.

[Laughter]

SHA’ANAN: Yeah, listen, I’ll tell you what. I personally, I didn’t come prepared emotionally on Wednesday. We did it Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And I saw, like within I would say a half-hour, two people were crying, and everyone else was like why, why, how could you do, and I got all emotional because of other people’s emotions.

But it’s all, it’s for the best. There’s, there really was nothing else we could do.

NEIL: When you sent me that message, me and Andrés got sad.

SHA’ANAN: Yeah, it’s so fucking hard man. Listen, it was a great few days. It was a great few days. I mean, you know when I was visiting Bali in Indonesia, there was a, they have funerals with dancing and singing. That’s just the way they do them, you know. There’s something to be said for that, you know. We should all go down partying.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Absolutely.

SHA’ANAN: There’s enough grief in the world so we can add some happiness.

ANDRÉS: Add a little dancing and add a little music.

SHA’ANAN: And some booze.

[Laughter]

SHA’ANAN: Who knows how it’s all gonna end, how it’s gonna play out. If you want to speak on a brighter note,

[Laughter]

NEIL: Please, hit us with some of that Sha’anan Streett optimism.

ANDRÉS: Give us some sunshine.

SHA’ANAN: I’ll remind you that I’m artist, that’s my true calling. So I actually finished writing a novel two days ago.

ANDRÉS: Get the fuck out!

SHA’ANAN: Get the fuck in, mother fucker.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Lose a bar, gain a novel.

SHA’ANAN: You win some, you lose some, right?

ANDRÉS: Is there another bar in your life do you think or is that it? Is Casino De Paris the last Sha’anan bar?

SHA’ANAN: So, walking into Wednesday, I was sure the answer to that was no. No more bars for me. But I was sitting with a group of journalists, and then one of them was like can’t you see that every bar you had in the city, everyone remembers? It’s not just a bar, it’s more than that.

And that asshole planted something in my subconscious.                  

[Laughter]

NEIL: He ninjaed you.

SHA’ANAN: Fucking journalists working with the government.

[Laughter]

NEIL: It’s true though, the casino was more than just a bar. And it’s where me and Andrés started the trip. There sitting in the courtyard, with a beer. So it’s the only real way we can end this.

SHA’ANAN: I can get a Shapiro beer from the fridge if you want. Should I do it?

NEIL: We’ll put the sound effect on it.

[Laughter]

SHA’ANAN: Do you want to wait for a second?

ANDRÉS: No, let’s do it.

NEIL: Let’s do it.

SHA’ANAN: Okay, I’ll go get my beer, hold on.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Hold my beer.

NEIL: Hold my beer.

ANDRÉS: Aw, now I miss Jerusalem man.

NEIL: I know, me too.

ANDRÉS: God dammit.

NEIL: It’s weird.

SHA’ANAN: All right, here we go.

ANDRÉS: Here he comes.

SHA’ANAN: Okay, here we go. Crack a brew, and another brew. Merry Christmas.

[Laughter]

SHA’ANAN: L’Chaim

ANDRÉS & NEIL: L’Chaim

SHA’ANAN: To you guys.

NEIL: To the Casino and to you.

ANDRÉS: Yes, absolutely. Um, yeah man, thank you.

SHA’ANAN: Thank you guys. This has been a pleasure, even this little conversation and the whole thing was great. I’m happy you thought of Jerusalem and I’m happy you thought of me. And we’ll be in touch, because, you know we need to be.

ANDRÉS: That’s right.

NEIL: Man, it was a total pleasure man, it’s a pleasure to know you buddy.

ANDRÉS: Yeah, man.

SHA’ANAN: All mine, all mine, ya habibi.

NEIL: See ya friend.

SHA’ANAN: Yalla.

ANDRÉS & NEIL: Yalla.

SHA’ANAN: Peace 

ANDRÉS & NEIL: Peace buddy.

SHA’ANAN: Bye bye

NEIL: Bye

[Song playing]

NEIL: So each week on Passport, we tell you a new, amazing story from a different country, in a different city, with a different perspective.

ANDRÉS: The places we discover on each trip often help shape our stories. So if you loved this week’s episode, here are our saved pins.

NEIL: So Jerusalem has become one of our favorite cities so far. So next time you’re there, be sure to check these places out. They were all little moments for me and Andrés on our trip which helped us tell a story of both an old and a brand new cultural Jerusalem. If you miss any of them, don’t worry. We’ll have all the links in the show notes.

ANDRÉS: Okay. Our first pin, and this is a heavy one, is Azura. Tucked away inside the Mahane Yehuda Market, it is the place for Jerusalem soul food. 5 pots of slow cooked meat, stews and sauces, hugely served and incredibly delicious. Neil and I will remember it forever as the restaurant that nearly wiped out our whole day after a serious case of food coma.

NEIL: Our second pin is Alliance House. It’s a former school turned artist’s haven.

It’s kind of a cross between a coworking space and a Berlin nightclub. It’s in the parking lot of the West Jerusalem market and it may well be gone in the years to come. So go see it while you can. Check out the listings for bands and shows, whether it’s klezmer, jazz, or psychedelic Yemeni folk songs, you’ll have a blast.

ANDRÉS: So a surefire oddity on Jaffa Street in West Jerusalem is the Clal Center. It’s a Soviet looking concrete, almost abandoned shopping mall. Head up to the roof where there is a green space and a café if you want to breather from the crowds. A strange but true, hidden spot in the oldest city on earth.

NEIL: If you’re heading East, right near the American colony is the Gallery Cafe where we met Subhi. It’s a weird, colonial looking building with a big front garden. It’s a little out of the way, but it’s fantastic for a super strong pick me up coffee. You’ll need one for your very weird walk back to the West.

ANDRÉS: And our last pin of course, is the Mahane Yehuda Market itself. This whirling, beautiful mess of noise and color, um, it’s now one of my favorite marketplaces in the world. But be prepared to haggle or take a big old bag of shackles. They can smell tourists, even over the thousands of aromas in this bustling and brilliant place.

Go there, get lost and get some halva. My god, the halva is so good. You’re gonna love that Halva.

NEIL: That’s it for this week guys, next week, we’re doing a very special feed swap, but we’ll see you in two weeks with a new MisInfoNation. And this time the mother of all countries, Russia.

[Song playing]

This episode of Passport was written and produced by me, Neil Innes, and Andrés Bartos.

Huge thanks to Aisha Prigann, Dave Bianchi, Ariel Snapiri, Apo Sahagian, Noam Kuzar, Subhi Djajani, Sha’anan Streett, Carmi Wurtman and all of the people we met on this trip.  

We will put some links to those amazing people and their work in the show notes.

All of our amazing music on this episode was created by our good friend and musical genius, Nick Turner. Additional stuff by the awesome El Khat and the amazing Hadag Nahash.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijansky are our Rabbis, Priests and Gurus… they also produce the show.

Which is hosted by myself and the mysterious named Andrés Bartos.

Yeah, we’ve got to get to the bottom of that one.

We’ll see you in the next place!

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© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.
© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.