Jerusalem: timeless and clock-less city

This is not only a timeless city bit also a virtually clockless one. Spires aplenty signal man's heavenly aspirations, but there is hardly a clock tower in Jerusalem to tell him what time it is here on earth.

Despite terrorist bombs and other tensions, there is an implacable tranquility in this religious center that will not permit itself to be hurried by digital clocks or even stately hour hands.

The most prominent timepiece in the city is a rusting, 80-year-old sundial opposite the main open-air marketplace, Mahane Yehuda.Even the modern Plaza Hotel has a stone sundial outside its main entrance but no conventional clock in its lobby to inform guests of checkout time on cloudy days.

Of the handful of public clocks visible downtown, two disappeared recently because they insisted on marching to the beat of their own drummers. "Either fix those clocks or take them down," stormed Mayor Teddy Kollek, after being regularly jarred during his morning tours of the town by the quixotic times he read on their faces.

Indicative of the attitude toward time in Jerusalem is the fact that Mayor Kollek's aides had the clocks taken down.

The marketplaces are testimony to the triumph of the human dimension over the time dimension in Jerusalem. In Mahane Yehuda, one can frequently see Supreme Court justices, political leaders, and other prominent residents making their leisurely way down the crowded lanes with plastic shopping baskets, pausing to prod tomatoes for firmness or banter with the vendors. In coffee houses, patrons can nurse a cup and a table all day if they so choose -- and the management even provides newspapers.

Mayor Kollek is one of the driven minority of Jerusalemites who wear wrist-watches, which might be expected of a man who punches a time clock at City Hall at 6:30 every morning. Although City Hall has a time clock, the large public clock that once graced its outside wall was taken down several years ago because the watch company that put it ip failed to maintain it properly.

"Maintenance is the problem," says Mr. Kollel. "There are banks and other institutions that want to put up clocks, but they don't maintain them. After a while these clocks are a nuisance, more misleading than helpful."

The Mayor of Jerusalem pauses, then refers with a smile to the clock tower adorning a prominent Old City church. "Maybe the answer is to put up more churches," he says.

A Jerusalem housewife recently told of sitting with a friend in a coffee house and wanting to know whether it was time to leave for another appointment.

"There was no clock in the coffeehouse," she related. "I didn't have a watch and neither did my friend. Neither did the waitress. Neither did anybody else in the coffeehouse. There was just no way we could find out what the time was."

A move to alleviate the situation was recently proposed by Dr. Pesach Schindler, an immigrant from the United States who is director of the Center for Conservative Judaism in Jerusalem. Dr. Schindler wants to put up a large clock on the facade of the center, which faces the busiest traffic intersection in Jerusalem, French Square. He has called on local architects to propose a design suited to Jerusalem's special character.

"People are always stopping you on the street here to ask the time," he says. "True, it's a way of communication, but public clocks would serve that purpose better as meeting places."

Dr. Schindler was born in Munich, which has a famous animated clock, and was raised in New York, where nonfrivolous timepieces are forever reminding the wandering eye that time is money.

In Jerusalem, the clock may signal nothing more urgent than the closing of shops for the afternoon siesta or time for a child to be home for his evening meal -- but for Jerusalemites this is more important than the closing time of the stock exchange.

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