A bump, and the eagle has landed.
Our plane taxis on the runway before pulling up to the gate, spilling out its eager horde of passengers lugging oversized totes and overpacked roller bags, some with kids in hand rubbing sleepy eyes, others in skinny jeans and trendy sneakers with messenger bags slung over shoulders and eyes intent on iphones.
We arrive in Israel among the throng, crowding a sun filled walkway, its simulated Jerusalem stone walls soaring towards the skies that dropped us here. Filing into long lines at passport control, we are a tired, noisy bunch on overload. In front of us, two women, a couple, chattering excitedly, behind, a lone fellow in shorts with a bulging backpack, grudgingly chatting with us, disclosing his home in the American South and his proud identification as a Trumper.
Ah, Israel. So many flocking to its borders, so many on a journey looking for who knows what or why.
So it is that we land, retrieve our own overstuffed bags, meet up with a disheveled taxi driver in Bermuda shorts and high white socks holding a piece of paper scrawled with our first names. We follow him to his spotless Mercedes, an evil eye dangling from his mirror and buckle up for the drive into Jerusalem.
Outside, we speed through the airport exit, then on to the highway where the decidedly Israeli landscape opens up. Scrubby grass gives way to stately dark green cedars, then gentle hills with low growing plants. In the distance a grove of leafy trees, then denser forest and rocky steppes.
The road snakes along the path, ascending gradually towards the city.
Dense clusters of buildings on surrounding hills come into view, then traffic builds as we enter the city’s environs, and there is a rush of familiarity as we sight buildings we recognize, streets that we know. We excitedly point out our old running route, look for “our” laundromat, nestled among the old stone houses and low slung apartments with Israeli flags flapping in the breeze, a profusion of flowering plants in overgrown pots on their doorsteps.
We pull up to the Inbal Hotel, banners outside welcoming groups of bar mitzvah revelers and community leaders. Inside, it is bustling, and memories come flooding back of the many times we’ve stayed here, community missions, family trips, visits on our own.
Later that afternoon, we stroll through Liberty Bell Park at the intersection of Jabotinsky and Beit Lechem filled with picnicking families, little ones in strollers, older ones on swings and slides. A group of teenagers on the basketball court, clusters of women, many in Muslim headscarves, others in the more elaborately fashioned head coverings of Orthodox Jews, gabbing as they keep an eye on the kids.
We turn right onto Emek Refaim which cuts through the German Colony, the street filled with shoppers and sense a palpable end of the week vibe. Shabbos is coming.
A quick stop at the fruit market, where an English speaking shopper helps me at the check out. Another at the tiny hardware store, its shelves stuffed with wrenches and fuses and boxes of screws and nails. I hesitantly ask for a lingerie bag; miraculously, the owner pulls one out from the jumble. I buy two, because he is so nice, then spy a bag of plastic clothes pins to add to my bounty. The following week I return in search of Shabbos candles, and the owner presses a pair in my hand refusing to take a few shekels.
Our first night, we take a walk after dinner to catch a glimpse of the Old City. We head towards the remembered lookout at the Montefiore Windmill and gaze towards the stone ramparts under the star filled sky. In the quiet I whisper a quick prayer of thanks for being here and for the peace of the ancient city.
We stroll the path towards the King David Hotel, another landmark, quietly reminiscing, then turn back to our hotel, following a familiar route.
There is a comfort in finding our way through the winding streets, in the road signs and place names that recall Israel’s more recent moment – Allon, Herzl, Rupin, Agron – and its remembered past – David Hamelech, Nahum, Levi, Gad. History and memory converge and are mapped by our footsteps.
And so inscribed.
The words of the ancient psalm loop through my mind.
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem. . . ‘
Being here, walking your streets, I remember.