How does one begin to recount all the memories of a place?
How can I relate to you the smells of Machane Yehuda, the spices intermingling with the freshly baked loaves of bread, the vague odor of sweat and fish all merging with the cacophony of voices? The shouts of “Banana, banana, banana!”
Can I accurately illustrate to you the sight of hundreds of bodies shoving, jostling, bumping into each other on a Friday afternoon? The religious women with their tangle of kids, pulling their wire carts loaded with goods for Shabbat. The men with their hairy forearms and creases in their sun-smothered faces, greeting me with crooked teeth and a bonus piece of precious fruit, telling me how beautiful I am, saying they are giving me, only me, a very special price.
Or I can tell you of the throngs journeying to the Kotel, the seminary girls in their long black skirts, giggling as they walk, arm in arm, toward that holy place. The young men, in their varying degrees of religious dress, some somber in expression, others jovial, hurrying with that quick step one develops in this city of fire. The clang of the light rail as it passes through on its way down Yafo, a brief flicker of seated and standing silhouettes, eyes meeting for perhaps a moment before the train car glides forward.
How do I begin to share with you that indefinable feeling of home? It’s hard to pinpoint the myriad ways in which I felt so acutely that I belonged to that land and it belonged to me. It was an unquestioning assumption, a statement as opposed to a question.
I wandered through those half-deserted streets, music in my bones, that blessing of Jerusalem wind pushing the strands of hair away from my neck. It always seemed windy at night in Jerusalem; I would walk back from my various destinations at odd hours of the night, feeling unusually safe, enveloped by the stones and trees of that holy city. The worst that would happen was the occasional wolf whistle from a passing car, a perfunctory display of interest that quickly found its next subject. Walking silently in the Old City, my footsteps echoing, I enjoyed a freedom which had never before been afforded to me.
I would weave aimlessly through the streets sometimes, with no intended destination, running my hands along the timeworn stone, smooth against my fingertips. Occasionally I would trip on the uneven road beneath my feet, or find myself somewhat lost in the maze of small alleyways, but always led by the compass of my heart, I would find my way again. Invariably I would end up at the Kotel, my soul singing with pleasure, and spend quiet moments alone with God, my forehead touching the wall.
At long last, I was home.
This is an excerpt of a memoir I am writing about my three years in Israel. More updates in the near future!
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