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Jerusalem of feathers

Reveling in the sublime absurdity of a stray, flightless bird ambling through the streets of the capital

“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not.” (Psalm 137)

Jerusalem, I couldn’t forget you if I tried. You are the streets under my feet and my rhythm when I dance. You are the magic of variety that flares in clashing worlds. I live inside you, O Jerusalem, and you live in my veins. You are my wine and my nectar, my love. And when I take you in, I am afire.

An ultra orthodox girl, her skirt neat and long, gives her place on the light rail to an old Arab man. He smiles, and the light catches on his brow.

I’m afire.

A radical feminist peace activist jokes with a religious boy in town, and they laugh together.

I’m afire.

A young nun holds a red flag. It’s the V-Day parade of your World War II veterans. A Jewish passerby, dwarfed by the ocean of signs in Russian and red carnations, points to one of the old men wearing medals. She tells her son, in Hebrew, “here is a hero.”

I’m afire.

But sometimes, O Jerusalem, fire is difficult to swallow. You are the city of prophets and madmen: Sometimes, madmen kill. You are Jerusalem of Gold, and your gold can be cold to the touch, heavier than rocks around our necks, heavier than the divides between us. You are Jerusalem the multicultural, and where cultures meet, O Jerusalem, they also clash. You are the city of heaven: We play the Atlas to your sky.

We are loyal sons and daughters, Jerusalem. We carry your weight in our still-skillful arms and on our un-cleavable tongues. And we love you, madmen and all. But we tire. We bow under your weight at times. We stumble, drunk on spirituality and fatigue.

But then, every once in a while, you grant us a reprieve from all the seriousness.

Today such a reprieve stumbled into our midst, long legged and covered in feathers. This particular reprieve started her life as an egg in Kafr Qasim. She was then bought and hatched by one of your sons, Jerusalem, in the Arab neighborhood Beit Safafa. Today she proved that birds are politics and race blind, and took a walk in mostly-Jewish Gilo.

“Ostrich,” yelled the school kids, and ran out to touch her. “Stray zoo animal?” tweeted their parents. “You wouldn’t believe it, but I just saw an ostrich ambling down my street,” exclaimed one citizen after another, talking on the phone with the police.

And the city of Jerusalem shouted and rejoiced.

Your Gilo-based sons and daughters took selfies with the ostrich. Others re-shared them online. Whole Facebook groups played “Spot the Ostrich”, and memified themselves to joyful tears.

Picture courtesy of Itai GabaiAnd once again, O my lovely and silly Jerusalem, living here became more than sublime. It became random, and hilarious, and utterly, ridiculously, fun.

Thank you, Jerusalem. Thank you for being part city and part village, part heaven and part earth. Thank you for being the kind of place where a peacenik ostrich dares to cross political lines. Thank you for inviting us to joke about heads in the sand for weeks to come. Thank you for sending us a flightless bird on an adventure, reminding us that even we, the wingless, can be bold.

I can’t forget thee, beloved city, but I can sometimes forget to enjoy you. So thank you, my silly Jerusalem of feathers, for reminding me today to have fun.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and speaker who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, parenting and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and Kveller, and explores storytelling in the bible as a teacher and on 929.
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