Jerusalem’s Ramadan nights

The party gets going in earnest after the night prayer, just before 10pm. But head to the Old City a little earlier to make the most of your wander-about and take in the new phenomenon of lights blazing up the arched alleyways.

With the permits of some 83,000 Palestinians having been revoked during the first week of Ramadan, and with hundreds of thousands of other West Bankers regularly unable to access Jerusalem, being able to walk the Old City is as much a pleasure as a privilege.

For those who could not attend Jerusalem’s festivities in person, then, come along on a virtual wander.

Starting at the top of Salah Ad-Din Street, stroll down the shopping arcades strung with brightly coloured bulbs just as shops start to re-open their doors after Iftar. An absolute ghost town between 8-9 after the sounding of the Ramadan Cannon, the bustling street comes back to life once everyone is fed and re-hydrated.

Keep heading down toward Damascus Gate, where all the real action is, where (mostly young men and teenagers) everyone gathers on the well of stairs that lead down to the mouth of the Old City.

Head down the left fork, Wad Street. This is the street that accesses Al-Aqsa, and the most heavily trafficked during the Ramadan evenings, and its here you will find most of the sweets shops, and –most importantly–your Katayif. The sweet that really only appears during Ramadan, the crescent (Ramadan, moon, crescent… with me on the symbolism?) pastry is a pancake filled with either walnuts or white cheese, fried, then drizzled in sugary syrup. Drool.

I would have taken a picture of the stuffing, but, once the fork was in action, there was no time for photographs.

As you munch away on your Katayif, wander down past the other sweets shops to scope out your next snack, and admire the lights strung up all along the narrow road.

There didn’t used to be lights like the ones there are now. Some, to be sure, but, I’m told its been the last two years that things have really taken off. Why? I cannot say, but, they sure do make things festive. There are even some Egyptian-made Ramadan lanterns for sale down toward the main entrance to Al-Aqsa, from about 30 cms tall to about a meter.

Take a right at the secondary entrance to Al-Aqsa, just the other side of the road from where the Jerusalem Studies campus is (Aqbat Khaldia, if street names help), and head up the residential street that has been turned into and outdoor shisha cafe.

Walk past the bubbling pipes and up the rise of the hill and someone has gone all out on the lights this year. From flashing Ramadan greetings to a freaking disco ball (I was so enthused), entering the archway feels like walking into the apex of Ramadan celebration.

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Such a change from the quiet, rather toasty and subdued (its the last big street heading West before Al-Wad reaches the entrance to the Western Wall prayer square, so there are usually at least a handfull of soldiers and border guards in the area) neighbourhood on your average Tuesday, which would be totally silent outside of Ramadan, the street with its lights could not help but spread the festive mood.

On through the back alleys and round the other end of the city to work up a bit of an appetite for stop number two: the late night shift at Jafaar Sweets.

Usually closing an hour before sunset, Jafaar is reputed to be the best Knaffeh maker outside of Nablus, but during Ramadan is serving plates of hot cheesy goodness late into the night.

In retrospect, I might have left the Khaffeh eating until the end, because round three of the festival of sweets was quite the challenge. I blame the cheese.

But who can resist honeyed balls of golden-fried dough and these inexplicably delicious mazes of sugar?

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By the time you emerge from the Old City, Damascus Gate will be flooded with people, someone will inevitably be playing the Tabla, the sound rising with you out and up the stairs to the final Ramadan market on the Ramallah bus station road.

If you have any room left, try a spiralized potato deep fried on a stick, or some of the fresh fruit juices with coloured straws lining the carts of the vendors.

There really are more food options than you can shake a kebab at. And a long night of sweets selling left as calories and celebration are packed in before sunrise, when the quiet and the fasting begin again.

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