Faigie Heiman
Sixty plus years in Jerusalem

A Cry of Joy

The street is empty. No movement up the hill and none down the hill. The huge pine tree rising from the depths of the parking lot brushes my window lightly. Her prickly branches are dusty, and nearly motionless. A cool Jerusalem breeze does not drift in, although the sun has not yet debuted.

The once lively street where Birthright groups and young people congregated, where lectures and events, weddings and britot, bar and bat mitzvot were celebrated in the private home opposite my window – have all disappeared. The street is reminiscent of a bare stage. No props, the actors offstage, the curtain drawn. The families in the grand house, the once busy house on the narrow street that was filled with charitable activities, will soon be shuttered. Some title holders have already moved, and others are busy packing.

Pedestrians who marched up and down the street three times a day to catch a minyan at the Katamon shtiblach, remain at home where they pray, some in their parking lots, on their balconies, in their gardens, or on their streets. Even the pigeons are gone. Only stray cats still move stealthily up the street. Skinny sad hungry cats combing half empty garbage bins for scraps. The street seems to be in the throes of death.

I’ve mourned the loss of my parents, I’ve mourned the loss of my husband, the loss of teachers and friends. How do I mourn the death of a street?

King Solomon’s proverbial protagonist, Kohelet, asserted that there is a time and season for everything. “A time to be born; a time to die; a time to laugh; a time to cry;” and a list of epic times for reflection.

The Jewish season of mourning, the Three Weeks, started with a fast on the 17th of Tammuz, (July 9th), and will end after the fast on the 9th of Av, (July 30th), the day the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed thousands of years ago. This year, these 21 days carry additional distressing weight. Months of Covid-19, the pandemic that has seen mourning in homes, on streets, in neighborhoods, in states, and countries around the globe, is still circulating. The expression “troubles of many is half consolation,” does not carry any consolation.

“So where do we go from here?” An oft repeated question asked by relatives and friends, guests at our Shabbat dinner table each time they visited Israel. Every one of the six decades since our Aliya, saw another burning issue facing the country, and each decade it seemed as if the end was near, that Israel was on the brink of disaster, possibly disappearing as the Jewish national home.

“So where do we go from here?” asked cousin George, a tall lean American rabbi, after the Yom Kippur War, when a bruised nation faced the War of Attrition.

“War on the holiest day of the year is a punishment from Above,” R’ Yaakov, another guest declared, a tear settling on his bushy beard.

Voices rise from the past, echoing questions from those I’ve already mourned, words that still ring in my ear. And so many questions were left unanswered.

“So where do we go from here”, I ask myself, the morning following anarchistic, violent demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Demonstrations by Jews against Jews, against an elected Prime Minister, against the government of Israel, against adhering to rules that safeguard lives during a pandemic that is storming the country. Tears well up; I have no answers.

The first rays of sunlight filter through the narrow slatted blinds. The first rays of hope flicker as the prickly pine sways a bit. Actors begin to appear on stage. Construction workers park their trucks and unload, work begins on home renovations.  Street cleaners sweep dust and debris, and then gather at the top of the road to wait for the municipal truck to pick them up. Birds begin to chirp. A lone man, a tallit bag in hand, walks sluggishly up the street.

And then the phone rings.

News of a newborn great grandson, a gift of life halts the lump in my throat, aborts the negative, and formulates words of thanksgiving.

The men and women who have been taken from this world, will never return. Yet streets, especially in Jerusalem, can always rejuvenate. Homes can be rebuilt, neighborhoods gentrified, buildings repopulated, and enriched with life and love. A new generation can restore faith. It’s a matter of time — “time to plant and time to reap; time to laugh and time to weep.” Wisdom is acquired through years of observation and observance. King David had it right, Psalms 30:6, “baerev yalin bechi, vilaboker rina.” In the evening we cry, in the morning, a cry of joy!

The Three Weeks are the time to mourn, and out of mourning, a new morning ascends, one that opens hearts and eyes to new creation. Doors and windows open to hope and reason, hope that will see our airports and shores reopen to tourists and new immigrants, our neighborhoods and streets receptive to healthy Jewish settlement. Hearts open to a generation that will learn from past mistakes. A generation that will commit to building their homes and future in a greater Israel, a generation worthy of joyous sentiment at the start of a new morning.

About the Author
Faigie Heiman is a frequent contributor of essays and short stories to Jewish newspapers and magazines, and author of a popular memoir, Girl For Sale. Born in Brooklyn, she made Aliya in 1960 with her husband and together raised a three-generation family in Jerusalem spanning six historical decades.
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