A New Week in Jerusalem

Shavua tov,” the old man said as he passed. Wishing me a good, new, week, he reached out his hand and handed me a rosemary twig and smiled with warm, twinkly eyes. I had heard his shuffling feet before I looked up, and noticed him approaching slowly from down the street, as if hugging the closed storefronts, pausing occasionally. His cane helped stabilize him and he took his time. I noticed his clothes were a little shabby, and that he had a bunch of rosemary in his hand. But he didn’t ask for anything, and he didn’t seem to have an agenda. “Shavua tov,” I replied. He walked on.

I was sitting on a bench reading a magazine and Shabbat had just ended. The street was still quiet with few cars driving by and although the day of rest was officially over, there was as if a hiatus of neither here nor there; a few moments of suspended time before the busy bustle of the week was to resume.

To linger and notice this space in time is like an invitation to experience magic.

The magic of a time in-between silence and noise, in-between rest and work, in-between holy and mundane. A time that is fleeting like the setting sun, but infinite in its dreamlike quality of possibilities and promise.

A new week.

Soon the neighborhood would be bustling with people and cafés and restaurants, buses and taxis whizzing by, but for now it was still. I looked up and saw the man stop at the next storefront only a few meters past where I was sitting, and reaching up to its doorway he lifted his hand to touch the mezuzah, the parchment inscribed with a prayer found on the doorposts of Jewish homes and businesses here. He touched it and kissed his hand, this way kissing the words of G-d, and then he shuffled on to the next store’s doorway.

The shops were still closed for Shabbat, so many were dark while some had bright lights in the window. I followed the man with my eyes as he continued his ritual at every doorway, slowly moving down the street, eventually disappearing into the darkness.

Perhaps he is an angel, I thought to myself.

I smelled my fingers that held the twig of rosemary, the strong pine aroma had already left its fresh, minty scent on my fingertips. It made me smile and feel hopeful and invigorated.

I brought the rosemary upstairs to my apartment, turned on the light and opened my computer. And then I thought, it will be a good week, because I was touched by an angel.






Sounds Like Jerusalem

A woman hollering non-stop in Hebrew or in Arabic, I cannot tell from here; cats going at it; dogs barking; the automated announcement on the bus passing by; the muezzin calling fellow Muslims to prayer at 4am;  birds chirping…Perched in a 3rd floor apartment in the German Colony, or Moshava Germanit, here in Jerusalem, I hear the sounds of the city I’ll call home for the next 6 months.

I get to play and wander the city after my workday is over, then the myriad of sounds will be connected to their things.

Down there on the street I roam at dusk, taking in the scenery while the city is still enveloped in the soft, forgiving light of the day’s final moments, when the air is cool and I am free. I see small stray cats of all colors and shades who with their lithe bodies make their way through garbage piles filled with scarps of food; they look nothing like the plump and lazy felines we see in our neighborhoods back home, the ones that go home at night to toys and blankets and their owners’ loving strokes and cooing voices.

I see the snouts of mutt-looking dogs protecting their owners’ gated Jerusalem stone homes where bright pink Bougainvilleas cascade over fences and lemon trees hang heavy with unripe fruits; I’m told Arabs are afraid of dogs.

I see young religious Jewish women pushing baby strollers, and whose heads are fashionably covered in the new hip turban look. In the store I shop next to Arab women, young and old, wearing their hijabs walking closely side by side. Then, I stuff myself into a crowded bus nr.34 A on the way home from an errand in a working class neighborhood. The sights and sounds are a cacophony, my observing stillness interrupted before every stop by the monotonous recorded voice that announces the next one, names of streets flashing in red Hebrew letters on the digital sign above the driver’s head. I understand. I listen. I look around me: Asians, Ethiopians, Russians; beautiful, haggard, covered up, or not. I smell the pungent odor of cigarettes and sweat and urine from the three unkempt bums in the seats next to me; their dark-skinned and hairy arms with tattoos leading down to hands that have been around, draped in wrinkled skin and ending in dirty finger nails that grip what I imagine might be vials of methadone that they discreetly unwrap from brown paper envelopes, comparing them side by side, discussing feverishly, teeth missing, something important.

Hopping off the bus, I approach my new, temporary, home. I smell falafels frying, shawarma grilling, and sweet challahs piled high.

I see beggars of all ages, and regardless of whether I give them a few agurot or shekels, they wish me Shabbat shalom or mumble a blessing. I try to look them in the eyes and not look away from the poverty; but there are so many…

This is like Jerusalem. This IS Jerusalem, “the city of gold.” Gold: malleable and soft; solid under standard conditions. But what is standard here? Gold: produced by a collision of stars. The myriad of people here are like the stars in the universe, each one invaluable to the whole. And they collide, only to make more gold.

Jerusalem of gold. “Yerushalayim shel zahav.” 


Jerusalem of Gold by Jean David