The sun is going down on Jerusalem today. On Mt. Olive, the graves are silhouetted against the sky. We are back at the Wall and I do tefillin again. I am wearing a yarmulke I bought only a half hour before in one of the many small shops that pocket this quarter. This is the second trip to the Western Wall and this time it is warmer and the rain clouds have dispersed, leaving the sky a patchy mix of gray and light. There is a quiet urgency in our group, a kind of unspoken restlessness because we know that we have a half hour at the Wall before we climb back onto the bus for the last time and head out for the airport in Tel Aviv. I wander off and wrap tefillin like I did the last time. Twice now I have prayed this way and both times here at the Wall. When I get home, I will have to tell Yitzak.
“This was a painful, surprising betrayal by a culture on which I had pinned all of my hopes, to which I had devoted all of my admiration, my heartfelt ardor.”
- Albert Memmi, A Pillar of Salt read more »
Softly, softly! Let’s be silent!
Graves are growing here
- Shmerl Kaczerginsky, Vilna Ghetto April 1943
Tamar is sleeping against the window as the Negev desert infuses our bus with a sense of disconnectedness. Tamar is using her Army-issued coat like a blanket and her blond head rocks with the rhythm of the charter bus. She has written earlier in the back of the notebook in Hebrew and English instructing me how to say, “I love Tamar,” followed by a note written in a hand unused to English. It is meant to be in my voice: “I came to Israel and met the one and only Tamar Hendler—”, and then hers, “OK Joe… I’m going to bring you back your crapper book don’t worry. There you go.” read more »
It is an English that is pockmarked with strange inflections and words—I had written in my journal that her speech was like a carob tree that suddenly sprouts a rose, but in reflection, it would be as if a rose bush suddenly sprouted a bunch of carobs. These carobs would be in constant danger of pulling the whole rose bush down.
“Where are you from?” the Chabad Lubavitcher asks me as he wraps the phylacteries around my arm. He hands me a pink sheet with the prayers to do tefillen. read more »
“New Jersey,” I say. Behind us is the Western Wall. It is a cold and rainy day and the Wall is mostly bare and empty of anyone besides my Birthright group. Soggy paper prayers collect in tangled piles at the base of the Wall.
“New Jersey!” he says, his smile growing underneath his scraggly black beard. “Cherry Hill?”
Once, years ago, when she made an overnight visit to the hospital, she had shared a room with a woman undergoing another in a series of surgeries. The doctors removed glass from her body. She had been a secretary in the Beirut Marine barracks in 1983 and when the van had burst through the security and exploded, she had been saturated by countless specks of glass. Each surgery removed the newest layer.
As her body renewed itself more glass would push to the surface, painfully and unconsciously as if her body was nothing but soil, fetid and subsumed beneath the seeds planted back in 1983.
Read Two Ways to Look at Violence: Part 1
When they drew the border between Israel and Jordan in 1948, they forgot to ask Mr. Cohen. Waking up one morning, quite early, wondering what turmoil the sunlight might bring, Mr. Cohen is hit by the sudden urge to urinate. He runs downstairs only in his underwear.
This is when Mr. Cohen realizes that his garden is cut in half and his outhouse is in Jordan.
I can only speculate on the thoughts that went through that graying head capped with a black yarmulke. Perhaps they were: borders, in-house, war, “I gotta go!”… Do the Jordanians have my neighbor’s outhouse too? Would they shoot me if I asked about my toilet? Will the UN provide me with a new one?
Mr. Cohen ponders, close to wetting himself. He is standing amongst his peppers and cucumber shoots. The sun is shining and Jerusalem is supposed to be shining with it. He can not hold it in much longer.
My grandmother on the phone before I leave for Israel: “Joey, don’t get involved with any Arabs or women.” read more »
“We are not a polite people,” says Momo, “my heart speaks via my mouth.” Shlomo “Momo” Lipshitz is president of Oranim Birth-Right Israel, one of the authorized tour agencies that shows Israel to the young Jews brought to the Holy Land for free by Birthright. It is his self-proclaimed duty to “bring one million young Jews to Israel.” Why? “Jewish love. This trip is all about Jewish love,” says Momo, standing before us with his arms crossed behind his back, his belly jutting out underneath a blue collared shirt. “Israel is about love,” says Momo. “You have come to Israel and you will find love here.”
In my dream the sun is hidden behind the dark gray sky and choppy blue water of the Red Sea. The ferry is buckling in the waves and the metal deck and the plastic seats are slippery and cold. You are with me and we hope to reach Eilat soon so we can go deep-sea fishing. read more »
When the crewmen, clad in red El Al uniforms, come around to take and inspect our shoes for bombs, you make a pun, mixing up "Hamas" and "humus," but you are not Jewish and this is your first time in Israel and the pun becomes silly and they laugh and mock your American accent, morphing it into a Mid-Western twang.
The engines roar as the plane cuts through the clear sky, but I have ceased listening to these engines; my ears have adapted and now I see only the clear night and the Atlantic peaking through from beneath the clouds. read more »
The Israeli sitting to my right pushes his arm into mine as he rolls, grumbling, in his sleep. His head is shaved and it tosses and turns with his body. I pull my arm closer to my side and push my head back into the small airline pillow that gruffly scratches the base of my neck.
A man in a distant field, no hearthfires near,
will hide a fresh brand in his bed of embers
to keep a spark alive for the next day
- Homer, The Odyssey
The local residents said that monuments had frequently been set over their graves, but they were all destroyed at night; however, I do not know whether this is true.
- Anonymous Disciple of the Rabbi Obadiah, 14951
There is something about the land that possesses. We are reminded of this constantly in Scripture—we think of lands claimed on divine promise. There is exile too; that soon-taboo word, “Diaspora,” an entire history of not-possessing. read more »
There are the spiritual exiles, the sudden ascensions into the other realm—Mohammed rising from the ruin of the Temple Mount. Words are tied to this land. To go to Israel to live is to make “Aliyah,” to “rise up.” A word for “east” in Hebrew also alludes to “past,” (kedma/yamei kedem) an allusion to the direction of origin and the home of Abraham. We face east when praying, facing towards Jerusalem, towards return, towards the past. There is the recent past: 1948 Independence, wars: ’56, ’67, ’73—the occupancy of Lebanon, the recent Intafada, the Gaza pull-out. The land is overwhelmed with boundaries—with border fences, ancient and modern walls, check-points, mountains, canyons, deserts.