Jerusalem: 5,000 years old and the youngest city I visited in my 20-country tour. When I flew to Israel after a month in mostly Eastern Europe, I expected Jerusalem to be the spiritual pinnacle of my trip. It was quite the opposite. Jerusalem is youthful, growing, vibrantly alive. Surrounding places thousands of years old are new apartments, stores, hotels, clubs, couples in love, groups having fun, people arguing, people haggling, and old people here and there like rocks in a stream bed with the wild current of life swirling past.
In the Old City are warrens of streets of stone, closed to traffic, alive with people: restaurants, shops, stores, clubs, every manner of business line tiny streets and the streets that don’t allow cars. The streets are also filled with young people. Soldiers are everywhere and they are young, the proper age of soldiers. Young men and women with automatic rifles laugh in cafes, read on buses, stare at their phones at tram stops and takes selfies in cafes. The soldiers you see everywhere look like soldiers should: young, strong, and tough.
In cafes and restaurants, groups of young people fill the tables. They also wait on the tables and cook the food. When I bought bread or coffee or a sandwich, it was a young person who handed me my order. The hotels I stayed at had people in their 20s on the desk.
By contrast in Belgrade a lovely cobblestone street ascends toward the top of the main hill in the city. Along that street is restaurant after restaurant with live music and lovely gardens. The waiters, the musicians, the diners are mostly older people. The scene is beautiful on a summer night, but very different from Jerusalem. Belgrade draws the best people who want to stay in Serbia, including many young people. But the city, like so many in Europe, is old and getting older. Jerusalem, like New York, Paris, London, Beijing, and other world cities draws young people from everywhere.
Jerusalem also draws tourists from everywhere. Retirees from America, across Europe and Asia flock to the Old City. But on the steep streets of Jerusalem, the tourists walk from stand to stand in the market or shop to shop then stop to catch their breath. Young people bump past and stride up and down. When the vendors in the open-air market shout, young people shout back.
Even the Orthodox are young. In America, the enclaves of Orthodox Judaism are home to an aging population. In New York City and in my hometown of Lancaster where there is an Orthodox Shul, the strictly observant Jews are older. Outside my hotel on a closed street in Old City Jerusalem, one of the outside tables at the closest pizza place had a table with a dozen young Orthodox men staining their white shirts with sizzling pepperoni pizzas--and laughing at each other when they did it.
Many people told me Tel Aviv is a young city, more vibrant, more secular. I can't say because I never left Jerusalem and so did not see the rest of the country. But the youth vibe of Jerusalem is my most lasting impression of a very ancient city.