How do you fall in love with a city? For me, my love for Jerusalem began with its stones.
The stones talked to me. They told me stories; they spoke of history, love, death, beauty, empires, civilizations, time, and faith.
When you fall in love something happens that is hard to explain, un flechazo, as we say in Spanish. A crush, a strong emotion envelops you, you are touched by love’s arrow and you are hooked.
Something like this happened to me the first time I visited Jerusalem in the 1980s, and my love for that city only grew bigger and stronger through the years.
I was 17 years old, a few days before my 18th birthday. I was in Israel with a group of Argentine teenagers, part of an organized trip: a two-month journey called Tapuz (orange in Hebrew), referring to the oranges that grow in kibbutzim (collective farms.) The first month we visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Masada and many other sites. The second month we worked on a kibbutz.
I had worked hard to go on this trip. My parents — who were divorced and also pretty secular and never sent me to Jewish school — didn’t understand why it was so important for me to visit Israel and they were not going to pay for the trip. So I began doing odd jobs, such as working for a company that organized birthdays for kids, or tutoring English to young children. I was part of a Jewish youth organization that encouraged me and my friends to visit Israel and make aliyah (to immigrate to Israel.) Nobody in my family suggested I join that group. I felt like doing it. I was interested in discovering more about my Jewish identity.
Once I got there, I knew it was worth it. When we visited Jerusalem I fell in love with the yellow stones, those limestones with so much meaning and history. We were in the Old City with some friends walking in the Arab Shuk, the Arab market, and we didn’t know that the small path with its little stores leads to the Jewish neighborhood and to the Kotel. The Kotel is the Western Wall or The Wailing Wall, El Muro de los Lamentos.
The first time I saw the Kotel I was not ready. I was overcome with emotion. It is a holy site for Jews because it is the western retaining wall of the Temple, one of the few sections of the retaining wall that were accessible by people.
Years later I came back to study at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. And in July 1996 I made aliyah, I immigrated to Israel from the Diaspora. Yet again Jerusalem was the place I chose to go. I lived in The Ulpan Etzion, an Absorption Center for young adults Olim Hadashim, new immigrants from all over the world.
Jerusalem is built with a characteristic limestone stone that is named by the city and gives it a characteristic yellowish pale color, even in the New City, outside the walls of the Old City.
Jerusalem is the place where I met my husband, and the place where we got married. It is the place where my daughter was born.
As I was fascinated by the rocks, I went to Bezalel, Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem’s Har Hatzofim or Mount Scopus, and I took some photography classes. I took many photos of Jerusalem stones through my years of living there. Some are abstract photos, some not. The textures speak to me; they talk to me with their beautiful voices about the civilizations that left their marks as the Greek, Romans, Ottomans, Christians, among others.
When I’m at the Kotel, time stands still. That is why I keep returning. There is a very special energy. It is hard to describe. The Wall is divided in a larger men’s section and a smaller women’s section. Those stones witness daily prayers of many women happy and sad, excited to be there, or crying for someone who is sick. I touch the stones and feel their texture; they have a soft special feeling from the many hands that have touched them through the years, and I see all those little papers of so many colors and shapes that appear among the stones who witnessed the people that left them. We are there as women, of different nationalities and even religions who go to visit the Wall.
Each woman stands very close to each other, claiming a tiny place in the wall, to talk to God, or to ourselves, to pray or listen, in whatever language we speak; as God hears and understands every language and every person.
Those stones are rectangular and have a frame, the Herodian frame, when the Second Temple was built in Jerusalem. Sometimes there are birds. Grass grows among the cracks. Those stones are millennial. We human beings disappear, but they remain as permanent witnesses to human history.