There was this woman on Jaffa Road in a gray-and-black-striped sweater, that exactly matched her hair, and she was carrying two grocery bags that were completely full of lots of stuff — a gardening hoe, some carrots, a pair of brown shoes, a bottle of Windex.
And her pants were down around her ankles.
You see a lot of things in Jerusalem. You see guys all in white dancing to trance music, ecstatic, arms in the air, kippahs still fastened to their heads there by the grace of Hashem. You see old men in keffiyehs in long white robes with walking sticks bopping along to music they hear through little ear buds from their iPhone 7s. You see girls in short skirts brightly colored, girls in burkas, all in black. You see teenagers holding hands, and old folks strolling arm in arm. You see all sorts of things, like men in yarmulkes begging for money, Arab kids dropping a few coins into their empty cups. You see police officers on big black steeds, and once I saw a chicken cross the road.
You see a lot of things, some are are nice, and some are ugly.
And there, in the middle of a golden afternoon when the sky was yellow-blue, and women in leather boots walked in and out of shops, and men in leather coats walked in and out of shops beside them, I saw this woman old enough to be my mother squatted down a few steps away from Aroma Cafe, peeing a stream of dark brown urine all over the street.
She stayed there for a while just like that — exposed and pink and grey — and no one saw her, except I stood there, struck still, rooted to the pavement, inches from the lightrail.
I wanted to cover her, but I had nothing to cover her with — except maybe my jacket, but it was new, or maybe my scarf, but it cost 50 shekels on sale at Castro and it’s one of my favorites. So I just stood there, while this lost woman sat there in her squat, the sweet air blowing across her thighs, muttering to herself.
When I was preparing for my Torah portion for my bat mitzvah — three days into a new school seventh grade! My first time wearing deodorant! — I peed myself all over the bima. I was too embarrassed to ask my bat mitzvah tutor for a five-minute break to go to the bathroom, and there in the middle of practicing my portion — the story where Sarah laughed — I soaked my overalls. I wanted to melt into the puddle at my feet, and disappear. My mom was there, and she helped me clean it up, the two of us down there on the bima next to the Torah scroll that I had been reading from only moments before, down on our knees cleaning the puddle.
She gave me her sweater to cover myself. We, two, daughters of Israel — mother and daughter.
I didn’t give this woman my jacket or my scarf. I gave her 10 shekels, because it was either 10 shekels or 100 shekels and I hope she didn’t see me flinch when I smelled her rotting breath, and the stink on her skin, this daughter of Israel, too, old enough to be my mother.
What are we doing to help these people? What am I doing besides giving away a few shekels here, a few shekels there, a meal once or twice a month… A regretful look, and a “I hope things get better” when I know the mind is a beautiful and terrible thing, and for this woman — and many like her, it will never be better.
We have transgressed.
I have transgressed.
She was someone’s daughter, once — this sweet little baby, crying, cooing, pink, in someones arms. And I don’t know how long she’s been alone, but once she was held, surely, loved and treasured. Just as I was loved and treasured by my own mother.
She shuffled down Jaffa Road singing to herself, something slow and sad in a minor key, like an old lullaby. Her voice carried on the wind, and it was glorious and beautiful, until she disappeared.