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.
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.