Breathing in a Crowded Sukkot: A Poem

Courtesy of Mimi Rosenbush

Jerusalem, 2019

What a difference a year makes …

People, like a natural force,
pushing to the Kotel:
they hold me up,
so I won’t slip
on the freshly watered stones.

A crowd ribbons
through this walled city.

There are things with wheels:
strollers and walkers,
walkers and strollers
hands held high
with esrogim
and lulavim.

Everything in motion
and somehow
a child holds on.

Tens thousand people
united in a shared project,
resolute and determined
pressing forward to the Kotel.

I’m looking for Aish HaTorah.

I get directions to go straight.
But there is no such thing as straight
in Yerushalayim.

Straight is meant for
Chicago and New York,
not this ancient city.

Turn at the next passage,
but that leads to more arches of stone.
Go up the steps;
go down the steps.
Endless portals
reveal secret sukkahs.

No landmarks here;
no skyscrapers to guide me.

I push on,
with only sun-lit stone
above, below, and beside me.

Is it possible
that this ancient city
never ends
but just folds
again and again
upon itself?

I am breathless,
and uncharacteristically panicked.

Then somehow
I find Aish.

I have no idea how.

In the cool air,
I catch my breath
and head
up the stairs
to the Aish terrace.

I make my way with false certainty
through families gathered at tables,
marked reserved.

Sitting on the edge of a riser,
I pause just for a moment,
to feel a breeze.

I slip through the crowd
to the front of the Aish terrace
to view the Kotel plaza below

and turn away as the blessing begins.

I inhale deeply,
taking in the once-in-a-lifetime
that can’t be forced or imposed

I breathe again and just listen
and let the priestly blessing
flow within me,
and through me,
to my loved ones
around the globe.

I breathe
mask-less and deep
with oceans of people
around and below me.

Although this is that once-in-a-lifetime,
I had no idea
what a difference
a year would make.

When the blessing is over,
photos are taken.

Without the photos,
I couldn’t be sure
this was real.


Courtesy of Mimi Rosenbush


Courtesy of Mimi Rosenbush

About the Author
Mimi Rosenbush is a retired Senior Lecturer in English and Grammar from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to the university, Mimi worked in Chicago as a film editor, documentary filmmaker, Co-founder of the Jewish Film Foundation, Assistant Midwest Coordinator for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, and on Oprah’s Book Club team. Mimi is a photographer and freelance writer living in Lincolnwood, outside Chicago.
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