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The building seems to be symmetrical but isn’t quite. Its careful geometries give the illusion of matching one another, but discreet differences proliferate throughout, as architectural half rhymes. With its play of light and shadow, its strict lines giving way to gentle arcs and rounded vaults, its hidden nooks and wide-open spaces, it takes shape as a kind of whispered riddle- somehow akin to Jerusalem itself.However much Hoffman loves the city her three architects designed, her feelings about today’s Jerusalem are far more ambiguous. She is stunned by a group of teenage girls carrying a handwritten poster in support of Meir Kahane, and saddened, if not disgusted, by the current state of the Romema quarter, whose hills once “spilled with orchards and fields.” Now one enters it through a “Moscowesque underground passageway,” to enter the “formerly pastoral neighborhood [which] is dilapidated, filthy, and almost entirely ultra-Orthodox. It’s hard not to see the derelict condition of this formerly elegant area as an ugly encapsulation of the current state of the city as a whole. The physical neglect here almost seems deliberate, as though the residents of today’s Romema believed that they might better prove their readiness for the world to come by abusing the world they live in.” The degeneration of the architecture of Jerusalem (unlike the physical decrepitude of the Bauhaus architecture of Tel Aviv, a city always 100 percent Jewish) is the fruit of the pyrrhic success of the Zionist enterprise. The world of Mendelsohn, Harrison, and Houris is one that has little, or perhaps nothing, to do with that of the Jerusalem of today, and more broadly with the Israel of today. Describing the Greek Orthodox Arab Houris, she says that he “lived in a time and place where one’s identity could be multiple, and where the bonds that stretch across what are now considered nearly impassable ethnic, national, and religious borders were not only conceivable, they were critical to what made the city the city.” Houris, whose story Hoffman spent years trying to track down, was originally from Alexandria, once a great cosmopolitan city, site of novels by Lawrence Durrell and Stratis Tsirkas, home of the great Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, but now, after the loss of its Greek and Jewish population, a cultural backwater, “a monolingual, monocultural, monoreligious city,” a mere shadow of its former self. This, she fears is the fate that awaits Jerusalem: “If Jerusalem’s rulers have their way, this city faces a similar grimly monolithic future.” A process that she sees is well along the path to fulfillment. Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a translator and writer living in Brooklyn. He has published many books of translations from the French, his articles have been translated into German and French, and his Voices of the Paris Commune has just appeared in a Turkish edition, put out by Kafka Kitap of Istanbul.
Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. Among his books are a translation of Victor Serge’s Notebooks 1936-1947, May Made Me: An Oral History of My 1968 in France, and I’ll Forget it When I Die, a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Liberties, Dissent, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications.