In the year that I have lived here, Jerusalem has become my source of strength and the remover of doubts. Although my aliyah was a relatively painless process, doubts are unavoidable. Will I have friends? Will I fit into the culture? Will I learn Hebrew well enough to get along? Is this a mistake? Yes, yes, I’m not sure, and not by a long shot. My mistake was not coming earlier.
As a result of two long-time relationships that fell apart, I have commitment issues that have left me living alone in a complex city with no family. And no prospects for a relationship at my age. And this is not a complaint. We create our own worlds. As Jews, we know that G-d gives us free will to find our own paths. And this path took a long time to find, but in a baal teshuva kind of way, the path is well lit and fairly obstacle free if I choose to make it so.
In my personal life, the “for better or worse” part of long-time commitment was a failure, not exclusively of my making, but a failure nevertheless. As I think about this city of dreams and legends, I know that this is one love that will survive the trials and tribulations of long-time relationships. For better or worse, even when “worse” involves bloodshed. You do not abandon a love when she is wounded.
The past few weeks have been challenging for all Israelis. Here in Jerusalem, it has been jarring to wonder if the guys doing construction work in the neighborhood are filled with the hatred that we have witnessed, as ordinary people going about their business become targets of barbaric assaults.
This city has endured much and means different things to different cultures. But it is both more complex and more simple than at first glance. In Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem, The Biography, he writes: “A history of Jerusalem must be a study of the nature of holiness. The phrase “Holy City” is constantly used to describe the reverence for her shrines, but what it really means is that Jerusalem has become the essential place on earth for communication between God and man.” And that is evident. It is a city where prayer can be personal and public all at once. After seeing a man crash his motorbike and sustain serious injuries a few weeks ago, I noticed two yeshiva girls praying for him, while we all offered soothing words waiting for help to arrive.
There is prayer, but there is also a living, breathing, modern and old city that runs on caffeine, music, optimism, humor, and grit. And it is both aspects of Jerusalem that I fell in love with.
Today, in my monthly visit to Davidka Square to get my Rav Kav (bus pass) renewed for the next month, there were few people in the office, unusual for the end of the month. It seemed that it would only be a five or ten minute wait to be helped. A tall blond woman, all leather and boots, strides in, takes a number and immediately is annoyed. As she pushes by several people to go to a window, there is murmuring. And then she loses it with the clerk who told her to wait her turn. Screeching like a Hollywood newbie who has been seated near the restaurant kitchen, she makes eye contact with every clerk as if they were responsible for her being made to wait with the rest of us. My favorite clerk there, a beautiful Arab woman, and I made eye contact and both started laughing, which elicited smiles from other people waiting who had been frowning at the prima donna scene playing out. In the middle of Arab/Jewish tension, a moment that allows humanity to surface.
These are the moments, as much as an early morning visit to daven at the Kotel, the sight of young men dancing with our flag or children playing in a sukkah at Safra Square, that strengthen my love for this city. Better or worse. There is no perfect, whether in human relationships or our love of a place. The good and bad times will shift places and play with our hearts. There is only acceptance for the gift of being allowed to feel the love, even when it is difficult and the worse overshadows the better.