I think I love thee, O Jerusalem

Jerusalem, you are a tough sell as a place to live. It’s one thing to deal with your crowds, the multitude of cultures, the personal safety issues, and the religious turbulence as a tourist. It’s a whole other thing to live inside you, allowing these things to engulf me every single day.

And so, I have always felt a commitment to you but I never really loved you.

Now, three years since my return to you, I’d like to tell you that it wasn’t you. It was me.

Let me explain.

You’re wild. No one can deny this – especially you. You are an in-your-face, livin’-on-the-edge, eastern city. For some, wild is a natural choice. But not for me. It’s just not who I was.

My choice to leave you for Vancouver in 2006 is proof of this.

After a 16 year relationship with you, I was so sick of you that almost everything about you repulsed me. I found you rude, loud and unattractive. I also found that my relationship with you made me extremely claustrophobic. When I noticed that I could barely stand you anymore, I knew it was time to leave.

I needed to choose a new place to live. Although I have a lot of family in New York, the big and rowdy city never felt like an option. It may be in the west – already an improvement over you – but it was still too energetic for my taste.

In the end I chose the peaceful and off-the-map city of Vancouver. Yes, six hundred thousand people have real lives there but, no offense to Vancouver, it’s a place where nothing much happens.

And I loved it.

Falling in love with Vancouver was easy for me. I arrived, saw the ocean, the mountains, the cute homes… I had a few people smile at me on the street, and very quickly I was starry-eyed in love.

I’m sorry, Jerusalem. Vancouver was the first city I ever loved. It was just a perfect fit for me at the time. The chilled ambiance was exactly what the psychologist (me) ordered. Not to mention that a laid-back city meant a laid-back Jewish community and that was also exactly what I needed.

It was a perfect relationship, what can I say.

But no, O Jerusalem, I never forgot thee.

Not because I particularly loved you. But I always hoped I’d end up back here since this is where my family is and something in me felt like I was missing out as long as I wasn’t here.

And so, after two and a half years in Vancouver, I started the six month process of convincing myself to give you another chance. I need you to know that it was actually more terrifying coming back to you than it was leaving you. And that is saying a lot because I was scared as hell when I left you.

Going back to a relationship that didn’t work out the first time felt like a crazy decision. I had been so unhappy in my former life in Jerusalem – who said this time it would be any different? But I just needed to see what it would be like living in you after all the growing up I’d done since I left (and maybe you changed a little too?).

Finally, after dealing with a huge load of fear, I made my decision and I ordered my one-way ticket to Israel.

I gave Vancouver many kisses goodbye. I made sure to see some last places I had missed (like Victoria and Gastown) I told it I still loved it but I had to go away. I cried. My love for the place and the people was palpable.

And then I left… Knowing I may never see it again.

On the last day of the month of Elul 2009, I boarded a plane back to Israel. My El Al flight was packed full with Israelis who had made yerida and were coming to Israel for the holidays. I sat next to one such man who was excited for me, and slightly jealous, that I was making the leap and giving you another chance.

I arrived in Jerusalem on erev Rosh Hashana. What a perfect day on which to begin a renewed relationship with you. Jerusalem, you were buzzing with holiday preparations. My parents’ home was vibrant and I was surrounded by lots of family members. Despite my jet lag, I helped my mom prepare for the chag, so excited to finally spend it with my family again.

A new year was beginning and I was beginning it with you.

It was such an emotional moment for me. Actually, as I write this to you, I am still extremely emotional about it. I felt like a new life full of opportunity lay before me.

Jerusalem, I did not fall in love with you overnight the way I did with Vancouver. You are a place that someone like me – whose natural choice is not heat, noise and prickles – needs to grow to love.

And now, exactly three years since my return, I see that I am growing to love you. I now struggle through your hot summer days but am absolutely and totally in love with your cool evenings. I am anywhere from uncomfortable to fearful of your Arab inhabitants but I love the feeling of living in a multi-cultural Wild East and I am happy that I am not living in a bubble. I work hard to pay for a small apartment but can’t get over my fortune of living in a cute home in such a pretty and funky neighbourhood. I am proud of my sweet life that is split between work with the most amazing people and after-work with, well, the most amazing people.

I love where east meets west deep inside of you. I stand on Derech Hevron on the Cinematheque bridge and look out to the Old City, the new city and the hills of the Judean Desert… Or I ride the Light Rail on Kvish Echad (actually called 60 Road or Cheyl HaHandasa St.) with all kinds of passengers, and I know that when one chooses a relationship with you, one truly lives on the edge.

It is because of who you are that you are the place where things happen. This is the city with such a long history that one archeologist said that anything found in a dig that is less than 2,000 years old is chucked aside. You are such a wild place that although you are the political centre of Israel, the world just can’t come to terms with who you are, even though it is under Jewish rule that you will always remain a pluralistic, open city for people of all religions.

O Jerusalem, I will always think of Vancouver as a beautiful little corner of the world but you are the real deal for a Jewess like me and you accepted me back with open arms. You are wild, prickly, stony and beautiful. You are welcoming in a way that not everyone can see. But I see it now and I love you for it. I truly do.

About the Author
Deena is a new mother, a project manager and a writer living in Jaffa.