Friends and Places

Old City from Café Rimon, Mamilla

The ancient stones of the Old City are worn smooth and shiny by the feet of countless residents, pilgrims, and visitors. They seem unchanged and unchanging in the soft opalescent light that bathes the city. People come and go, taxi drivers on Jaffa Gate still asking extortionately unmetered rates for a trip to Bethlehem, the old man with sad eyes, dirty feet and sandals sitting on the street corner, the old woman peddling red string for a shekel or two to ward off the evil eye on the steps down toward the Kotel, a segula whose Kabbalist origins can be traced back to Genesis 38 where a red string is customarily wound around Rachel’s Tomb and resurrected in times when people feel in need of personal or national protection. Everything in the shifting political sand seems sometimes to lack agenda and purpose, yet, in this medieval cocoon, all seems as it should be, as it was meant to be.

Judean wilderness, Arad

Returning here is always something in the nature of pilgrimage, but, beyond the endless queues at the holy sites and huckster tourist flim-flam, as one burrows more deeply into the reasons and motivations for so much of the tensions, wire-wound like an overstrung instrument, there is a resonant aura of tranquillity, caustic in its irony.
And yet, this is not all there is. Many come to Jerusalem, and fail to explore further. This time, a long road trip took us down past Be’er Sheva through the mountainously inhospitable Judean wilderness, where the bedouin outnumber the rest, down past Masada, Herod’s palace still majestically overlooking the Dead Sea, to Arad, a town without a traffic light where the hikers go, their litre of water per hour strapped to their backpacks, trails winding through perilously steep wadis.

Eilat, Marina

And then, there is Eilat, a sliver of a town, once near-lawless, now a neon-clad Las Vegas, with its own puddle-jump airport, where people come to party, to swim with the fishes around coral reefs so impossibly close to the shoreline and lie on the beaches within sight of Aqaba to the east and the desert of the Sinai to the west.
My own focus had shifted. I came not to see and gawk, but to spend time with friends, teachers and students, which was, surprisingly, so much more rewarding. I spent time with the young men and women who had to sit under my tutelage, some more mutinously than others, and rediscovered their warmth and exuberance, tempered by a year of growth, and how deeply satisfying it felt to be with them and briefly share our lives once more. Colleagues were glad to see my return, wishing me well.

What a difference a year makes…

If a lasting peace ever descends on this place, it will not be because of the intervention of foreign enforcers with muscle and money, it will be because people who know and have learned to trust each other will no longer allow their political masters to dictate terms based upon self-interest and hubris.
On the eve of Yom Yerushalayim, may we see it, in our day.