I don’t travel from home to Jerusalem frequently, often only two or three times a year, in spite of the distance being only one hour of car or bus travel. Since I have no friends nor family in Jerusalem, the purpose of my occasional visits is to worship at the Kotel, the remains of the ancient western wall of Herod’s temple.
Recently I endured some uncomfortable weeks of pneumonia, long-lasting and annoying. On a Shabbat morning in my Great Synagogue of Rishon Lezion, built in 1882, I remarked to Nikita, a young fellow worshipper, that I wanted to travel to Jerusalem to pray at the Kotel thanking God for being my physician and healer.
Nicki asked if he could join me. It had been a very long time since he prayed at the Kotel. It was nice to have company on the hour-long bus ride. Armed with a kilo of assorted cookies (2.2 pounds) I arrived at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem and took a local bus heading towards the King David Hotel in search of #4 Washington Street, behind the famous hotel located on Rehov HaMelech David.
The concierge directed us to the 2nd floor where the door sign, TIMES OF ISRAEL appeared shining in glass.
When asked by the desk secretary who I was and who I wanted to see, I revealed my name and the name of the editor with a request that it not be told since I wanted the visit to be a surprise. The announced message was simply “There is a man here who wants to meet with you.” The message was intended for editor Miriam Herschlag who had left her office only a few minutes prior to my arrival.
Instead I was greeted by the deputy editor, Anne Gordon, who was delighted to see me. She insisted on calling Miriam back to the office but I asked her not to reveal my name. I cannot be certain, but I do believe she informed Miriam who was looking for her.
Within a few minutes, a tall young woman entered the glass doors and appeared in the waiting area where I was seated. A quick glance at me, Miriam’s question, “Esor???”
We had never met previously. How could she have known I was Esor ? The secret identity could only have been revealed by our Mossad, secret security officials, or by Anne. You will have to guess who revealed the name of the secret visitor.
I placed a kilo box of assorted cookies and pastries on her desk, freeing my arms for a hug, Miriam was overcome by my unannounced visit and received me with warmth, hospitality and friendship.
We spent some time talking about a common past of long-gone years and of the current political situation in the country. Meeting with Miriam was like a meeting with a long-lost friend.
Shortly after leaving the office of the TIMES OF ISRAEL, Nikita, who understood enough English to follow the conversation, remarked how surprised he had been at the friendly reception I received.
From the Washington Street office, we walked to the magnificent Mamilla open-air mall, surrounded on all sides by restaurants, cafes, jewelry, clothing and art shops. The crowds were so large it was difficult to find a café with outdoor seating until we spotted two chairs and an empty table at Café Roladin.
Jews, well-dressed Arab women with young children, hordes of Christian pilgrims (many from China) passed our table. To the Christian pilgrims, I offered a smiling “Welcome to Israel” greeting and was deeply touched by the responses “Thank you. God bless Israel and bring you peace.”
Following our cake-and-coffee at Roladin we made our way through the narrow and ancient stone streets of the Arab shuk (bazaar) where Arab merchants addressed themselves to hopeful tourist customers with a “Name your own price. How many shekels do you want to pay?”
At each stall, I simply replied “Shukran. Ana min hun.” Thank you. I am from here.
Reaching the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Wall we were out-numbered by groups of Christian pilgrims accompanied by priests in various manners and colors of clerical robes.
I recited my prayers briefly and inserted the expected tiny slip of paper petitioning God for His favors and offering thanks for prayers previously answered.
As I backed away from the Wall, the wind blew a small piece of paper at my feet. I bent down to pick it up and replace it in a crevice of the ancient Wall. Reading it, I was overcome with joy and emotion.
The brief message, in English, read: “Dear God. Please bless Esor for the kilo box of assorted cookies and please tell him to be sure that the next kilo on his next visit contains less almonds and more chocolate”.
Re-inserting the petition into a crowded space with millions of others, I wondered if God Himself preferred chocolate to almonds. The petition was intended for God. The petitioner had to be Miriam.
May all her good wishes and prayers be fulfilled. Warmest regards from an old old blogger.
The next visit with the next kilo of assorted cookies will be sure to contain more chocolate!