On 29 May of this year, I stepped off El Al flight 6 from LAX. I was in Israel for the first time in my life. I was the only oleh on that Boeing 767. I was told that I was to be the only North American immigrant to arrive in Israel on that particular day. There were some Russians but other than that, it was a slow day for the Ministry of Absorption.
I learned a new Hebrew word that day: balagan! The taxi driver didn’t speak any English but I could tell that he was getting frustrated trying to find a way to drop me off at the Jerusalem Hostel, my first address in Israel where I’d be staying until I found something better.
Only the street trams are allowed on Jaffa street ever since the light rail came to town. The cabbie kept saying, “balagan, balagan!” From his exasperated tone, I figured out that he wasn’t from Jerusalem and this word he kept saying had to mean something like a big confusing mess or a situation that’s gone awry. He eventually found Zion’s Square and dropped me there. He turned out to be a real nice guy after all the problems with one-way streets and getting lost in the orthodox alleys of Mea Shearim; he even carried one of my bags to the front door of the hostel.
Marianne, the hostel manager and a British olah herself, was the first Jerusalemite I ever talked to, I think. “Welcome to Jerusalem.” She said it a bit matter-of-factly. I told her I just moved here from LA. She looked at me quizzically like there was this very unbelieving “why?” scrunched somewhere in the wrinkles of her perplexed facial expression. She looked a little tired too. I went to my room and sat on the bed and turned on the TV.
Well, this is Jerusalem, I thought, cool and I meant it.
It is cool. It’s cool every day here in my new hometown.
Look, I’m just a middle-aged guy, divorced, not a lot of resources or cash in the bank and I don’t speak Hebrew yet (but I love learning it). But, I could care less about my so-called problems. I’m in Jerusalem, for crying out loud! It’s where I live finally, the one and only Jerusalem!
For a Jew who doesn’t have to say, “next year in Jerusalem,” I’d say everything else is gravy. I wish I knew a better way to communicate this feeling I have (I could kiss you!), this sense of privilege, after spending my whole previous life in the diaspora. But, if you keep reading my blog (I’m going to keep the same title for every post because Jerusalem really is my hometown now), you’ll get to understand how it’s possible and normal for at least one Jew (don’t worry there’s more than just me) to just feel happy to be here everyday. No matter what else goes on, I’m home for the very first time in my life and I’m staying put! Man, does this feel great!
The angst-riddled longing is gone. I used to yearn to live here. I did that for 35 years. I even lost hope that it would ever be possible. Then one day, my father, Murray stands over me after watching the Israeli News (he watches from Simi Valley, California) and announces his epiphany, “David, I think you should move to Israel and if you want, I’ll help.”
Well, one thing led to another and within only a few months, I heard back from the Jewish Agency. Then, Nefesh B’Nefesh arranged my flight and that was that. Two weeks later, I’m on flight 6. After forty-five minutes at the Jerusalem office of the Interior Ministry, I walked back out the same door I had come in but now, possessing my new National ID card.
Ani Israeli. That’s I am an Israeli, in Hebrew. My most treasured physical possession, other than an old dogwood walking cane that my daughter Katie keeps now, is my teudat zehut, my National ID card. I show it off all the time. How silly does that make me? Who cares, Ani Israeli! And, I live in Israel’s capitol.
There’s so much that’s especially beautiful about Jerusalem (and I’m sure, it’s like this in other places in Israel too) like when legions of husbands armed with flowers hurry home before sundown on Friday nights and when the Shabbat shofar blows and the city becomes quiet. Watching the fathers (not just mothers) play with their children in the park is such a delight. Teenagers who instinctively give up their seats on the bus for the elderly make me glad when I ride the buses.The colorful hair wraps and layered lace-adorned dresses worn by Jewish women makes for a distinct and enviable style. The different way the Muslim women cover their hair but not their faces is also very beautiful, understated in a modest fashion. And the food! The pastries, the falafel, the shwarma, the fresh-squeezed, blood red pomegranate juice, chopped salads…did I mention the pastries?
Every day in Jerusalem is like ten days of life experience all packed into one huge rich turn of the earth around its axis. It’s like Jerusalem is the very center. Right next to city hall, you can even see an ancient map of the world re-depicted in beautifully colored tile showing Jerusalem in its middle. Having come here to live, I’d say that seems about right.
Waking up each morning here in my East Talpiot neighborhood to the sound of morning prayers from the muezzin, I know that the day will be another brand new turn of events, a kaleidoscopic adventure that never seems to stop.
Since arriving, I’ve danced with the Lubavitchers (I think) carrying a Torah against my shoulder around a table next to the Kotel (Wailing Wall) on Simcha Torah! An old barber named Avraham cut my hair for less than 40 shekels. Above his mirror hangs a framed and weathered black and white picture (but colorized) of the youngish-looking Israeli Army Colonel, Yitzak Rabin, taken long before he ever would thought he’d become prime minister one day. I eat cottage cheese (my Dad hates the stuff because that’s all he got to eat at the Betar Youth camp in New York in 1947) and challah for breakfast a lot. I like to do Sudoku puzzles in the magazine section of the Jerusalem Post on Friday mornings and read the parashot too, a few pages prior, while doing my laundry on HaPalmach street. The laundry is owned by a cute old couple from Australia. They’re Jews but they have Arabs working for them. It doesn’t seem to matter that they are different from each other. As they converse in and out of Hebrew, Arabic and English, everyone there seems like they’ve been friends for a long time. I’m so happy, I went and bought some bongo drums, something I wanted to do since I was a kid. Marco’s son from Brazil taught me the Samba Bossa Nova beat!
Another not-to-be-named friend with some clout invited me to a foreign press briefing this coming Monday in the Knesset. I’ll write about this experience in my next post; it’ll be my first time visiting the Knesset.
Ani Israeli. I have to pinch myself sometimes. Yes, I plead guilty that this blog is a “feel good” and looking at the glass “half-full” picture of what it’s like for me to come home and to live in Jerusalem. If you really want to know how I feel about her, think about a couple who falls in love. Anyway, I’ve always been in love with this city and she’s turned out to be even better than I imagined. And now, for the past seven months and for the rest of my life, I’ve been living here and get to stay here and never leave lovely her, my Jerusalem, my hometown.