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