A Street Divid­ed: Sto­ries from Jerusalem’s Alley of God

  • Review
By – May 19, 2015

In Novem­ber 1948, Moshe Dayan, rep­re­sent­ing the new­ly cre­at­ed State of Israel, and Abdul­lah El-Tell, rep­re­sent­ing Tran­sjor­dan, met to divide Jerusalem. Armed with thick grease pen­cils, they cre­at­ed a map indi­cat­ing the gen­er­al posi­tions of their troops and demar­cat­ed the bor­ders for a tem­po­rary cease-fire, with a no-man’s zone in between. Noth­ing was meant to be per­ma­nent — yet over six­ty years lat­er, lit­tle has changed. The bor­ders, and the no-man’s zone in between, remain.

A Street Divid­ed is the sto­ry of the peo­ple who live on Assael Street, one of the streets that became the unin­ten­tion­al bor­der between con­flict­ing peo­ples. While the book has pock­ets of his­tor­i­cal analy­sis, it is pri­mar­i­ly a series of vignettes about Assael’s res­i­dents and how their lives inter­sect­ed over time. At times laugh-out-loud fun­ny, at times strik­ing­ly sad, A Street Divid­ed depicts what hap­pens after the maps are drawn and the peo­ple on the ground are left to fig­ure out how to coexist.

Author and award-win­ning The Wall Street Jour­nal reporter Dion Nis­senbaum lived on Assael Street, a fre­quent home to jour­nal­ists and reporters look­ing to lit­er­al­ly strad­dle the bor­der so as to avoid affil­i­a­tion with one side over anoth­er. Although Assael Street itself may not live up to the hype — unfor­tu­nate­ly, the world is filled with hasti­ly-drawn bor­ders that divide peo­ple into neigh­bor­hoods and nations irre­spec­tive of reli­gion, eth­nic­i­ty, and nation­al iden­ti­ty—A Street Divid­ed pro­vides thought­ful, mov­ing, and some­times heart-wrench­ing insight into the lives and expe­ri­ences of half a dozen or so Jerusalem fam­i­lies. Nis­senbaum apt­ly high­lights the diver­si­ty of the street’s occu­pants, the sto­ries of their jour­neys to Assael, and how over time indi­vid­u­als from all sides of the lines were able to break down the barbed wire bar­ri­ers and bond over tea, smiles, chil­dren, and rei­ki. His account gives voice to the every­day per­son, all too often for­got­ten in the focus on pol­i­tics and con­flict. It is the sto­ry of the peo­ple behind the head­lines, liv­ing beyond the drawn bor­ders, left behind by his­to­ry to nav­i­gate unchart­ed territory.

Relat­ed Content:

Joy Get­nick, PhD, is the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Hil­lel at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester. She is the author of the Melton School of Adult Jew­ish Learn­ing Beyond Bor­ders: The His­to­ry of the Arab-Israeli Con­flict, has taught his­to­ry at area col­leges, and pre­vi­ous­ly worked in the JCC world and as the direc­tor of a teen Israel trav­el sum­mer program.

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