Deep in the Old City of Jerusalem, tucked into a dark little corner, there’s this jewelry gallery that’s always shining.
Actually, that’s why I went inside in the first place. I like bright shiny objects, especially on dark days, when the shadows nip close at my heels. And one day several months ago, when I saw the lights of the shop winking off the tables of gold and silver, Roman Glass, and crystal for the first time, I went inside.
The man who owns the shop was sitting behind the counter fingering Muslim prayer beads, hand-carved. There was a calendar next to the cash register that read “Bank of Palestine.”
And in this shop deep in the still-beating heart of the Old City, he sells menorahs, and sabbath candlesticks, kiddush cups, and Jewish star necklaces alongside murals carved on marble of Al-Aqsa, wrapped around by the Shahada the Muslim declaration of faith.
And somehow, even during these tense times, while the peace of Jerusalem dances with the angels on the head of a pin, and while my own anger rises fierce and frightening like a mother lion when I read the news, I’ve becomes friends with him.
For me, it isn’t really a choice to stop going in and saying hello when things are really tense and hurting. My parents taught me not to hate, and not to be afraid. And even now, while the news bleeds these stories of stabbings, of beatings, of massacres in synagogues, I will not let my eyes grow accustomed to the darkness.
So I seek light.
And each time I am in the Old City, I find him sitting behind the counter in his shop, where the light shines golden in the gloaming.
We speak in Hebrew, because my Arabic hasn’t grown beyond the simple.
“Kif halik habibti?”
“Mabsuta. Kif Halak?”
Sometimes, we switch to English for a sentence or two. And sometimes, we have to use Google Translate.
You have to understand something about Jerusalem right now – this kind of friendship isn’t easy for us. We have to weigh our words carefully, these tools that can bring us closer… or push us away. Or make me want to pick up one of his crystal kiddush cups and hurl it through a window — and maybe make him want to do the same.
And we don’t keep it simple. We don’t shoot the shit about the weather.
“What do you think about Bibi?” he asks. And I tell him.
“What do you think about ISIS?” I ask. And he tells me.
Yesterday, was the first time I went into his shop since the Har Nof Massacre.
It wasn’t easy to go back to the still-bleeding heart of Jerusalem, especially when I know there are too many Arabs in the Old City celebrating the murders of these five fathers. And I’m still raw, still hurting deep inside when I think about what happened to those five men in that holy place. These fathers who left early on a Tuesday morning to pray, and now will never go home to their children.
I’m tired of this.
I’ve got things to do: Kids to raise, friends to see, Buzzfeed quizzes to take. I ain’t got TIME for another Code Red while the rockets fall, or another phone call in the middle of the night. There isn’t enough whiskey (or weed, or yoga, or Enya) in the whole entire world to soften the steel edge of adrenaline that courses through me every single day.
No, I don’t believe that Israelis and Palestinians will frolick together in a meadow with butterflies and singing deer anytime soon. I don’t believe we’ll be beating those swords into plowshares and working side by side for a looooong time.
But, I can’t live here and accept that there is no solution, because, well, my kids. My beautiful, sweet, kind kids.
My kids who will serve in the Israeli army one day. And as we get closer each day to their draft date — still way off in the future, yes, but onward we march toward it through each season, each birthday, I have to believe that there is hope that we can at least have a cup of tea together and listen to one another.
So I went back to the Old City, caught in the rain, soaked through each layer to my skin, shaking from the cold and from fear, through gleaming streets, through the silver edges into shadow, I ended up at my friend’s shop, and we talked again.
“I haven’t seen you in a while,” he said to me.
I shrugged and half-smiled while I brushed the raindrops from my hair. “Yeah, well you know, it isn’t such an easy time for any of us.”
“Tea, habibti? You know you aren’t leaving without drinking a cup, especially in this rain.”
So we sat over spiced tea in the corner, next to the table with his prayer beads and the Bank of Palestine calendar.
“Did you hear about the soccer match?” he asked, referring to a recent game where Arab fans of Sakhnin waved Palestinian flags and shouted “Allahu Akbar — God is Great” afterJewish fans of Beitar Yerushalayim screamed “mavet l’aravim — Death to the Arabs.”
“It’s beyond horrible. I hate when people do this,” I cringed, thinking about the rage spilling over the soccer field.
“My sons play soccer,” he said quietly.
(So does mine.)
“Show me pictures of your kids!”
He clicked over to Facebook and we scrolled through his albums. Oh such cute kids, smiling in each picture, in their soccer uniforms. The younger one wears glasses and a lopsided grin — “He loves learning, that one,” and the older one’s face is nearly split in two with his smile — “he’ takes care of his younger brother, he’s really a sensitive boy.”
“I try to teach them to love everyone,” he told me while we sipped our tea. “But they hear things from their friends that make it hard.”
I wonder what my kids will hear from their friends some day.
“Yalla, let me show you my babies,” I said, pulling out my phone.
He scrolled over the album, flicking right over each picture the next one.
“Oh my God, that smile!” he said when he looked at my son mugging for the camera and doing jazz hands. “And your daughter — wow, she has your expression. You can see her soul shining through her eyes,” he paused for a minute as his finger hovered over a photo of my sweet girl standing next to the fields by our house.
“I want to give her something,” he said as he stood up and walked over to the display case near the window. “Don’t say no, it will break my heart if you do,” he added as he returned with his palm held out to me.
I looked down at his right hand, and there in the middle, halfway up his lifeline was a tiny Star of David charm sparkling with blue and white crystals, these shining colors, the colors of the desert and the sea, the same ones on our Israeli flag, shining like the tears he must have seen in my eyes.
My daughter doesn’t know about the massacre in Har Nof. Or about the night that a man drove his car into a crowd of people and murdered a baby girl. She doesn’t know about the busses that have blown up, or the family in Itamar that were butchered in their beds. She doesn’t know about the beatings, or the riots or about the stabbing that happened just inside Jaffa Gate in the Old City a mere few hours after I had walked past that very spot on my way home to her, with her Star of David shining around my neck.
My daughter doesn’t know that many of us feel that we have reasons to be afraid of the people with whom we share this land. Nor does she know that many of the people we fear feel that they have reason to be afraid of us, too.
But she will know that an Arab Muslim man gave her her first Star of David.