Thursday, June 12, 2008


Peter, who blogs from Moscow (hi Peter!), and is quite an adventurer, has inspired me to trot out some old photos of my time in Israel and try to write a bit about it (he also inspired me to put up the current songs I'm listening to, so I must admit I'm a real copycat).

I love Jerusalem--I think it's the most beautiful, magical, spiritual place on earth--and I loved living there.  I haven't been back in well over a decade, and now that I have Hedgehog, it'll probably have to wait a little longer.  My only worry now is that, since I took Sgt. Pepper's exceedingly Arab last name when I married, we might be stopped by airport security for a little chat when we enter the country.   And I'd hate for that to be Hedgie's first experience of that place.

I moved there unwillingly--all first-year Rabbinical students had to--and I left Sarge back in the States.  I've never cried so hard in my life as I did when I left him at JFK to get on my flight.  It was literally agonizing.  And ultimately I dropped out of Rabbinical school and returned to him, for a number of reasons including the fact that a pulpit rabbi in an interfaith marriage would have a heck of a hard time.  That, and I missed him too much to stay alone in Jerusalem.  It made it almost worse that I loved that place so much--I felt guilty for enjoying it without him. 

It's true, though, that everything about Jerusalem agreed with me.  The weather (hot and dry in the day and cool and breezy in the evening); the food (a lovely combination of Sephardic and Ashkenazic--fresh, light Middle Eastern dishes as well as the tender little pastry pockets and potatoey things of old Europe); the way of living (neighbors always visiting back and forth).  Being the homebody homemaker that I am, this image more than any other captures my experience of living there--me, in my dear local grocery store, shopping for Shabbat: 

On Thursdays, and Friday mornings, every week, week in and week out, there was a mad rush on the stores, which closed down and shuttered before sundown on Fridays and reopened on Saturdays after sundown--24 hours of lockdown. The feeling of panic was legendary in scope. Everyone behaved as if it were the imminent apocalypse, and one couldn't survive without plenty of mango juice and challah and pieroshkis.

And there's nothing like shopping for groceries to help you understand and know a foreign place. You quickly come to know the locals, even if you're much less than fluent with the language. For instance, the babushkas in Jerusalem really didn't believe in queues. I learned quickly that the same behavior that would be unthinkable, and might possibly earn you a punch in America, in Jerusalem was the only way: to reach the checkout with your groceries, you sometimes had to just plain shove your cart into the fray. Literally shove people out of the way, or you'd be standing there like an idiot for an hour as 70-year-old barrel-shaped ladies (in the pink of healthy strength, I might add) would just jab you out of the way, one after another, ad infinitum. The other ancillary truth of living abroad, I believe, is that once you keep house for yourself, you're really there.

Here's the view from my bedroom balcony:

It's nothing but a thing to have a balcony in the Middle East--pretty much everyone has them. As exotic as a pomegranate tree in NYC, Jerusalem has them both in abundance. I loved the balconies in our apartment. I would smoke out there on mine, in the cool evenings, listening to the clink of dishes and hum of voices drifting from the neighbors' late dinners.

There were also, of course, soldiers everywhere, men and women. Here were some hotties who noticed me getting a surreptitious shot, and in the manner of all good grunts everywhere since the beginning of time, got in a little clowning for the interested girl:

So cute.

But the best part of being in Jerusalem was the feeling of being close to the holy.  I have never had the feeling before, and never since, as strongly as I did there.  Walking in the Old City at night gave you an eerie feeling that you could run into God around any corner:

And that it might not be peaceful, but rather unsettling.  

One Shabbat evening, my sister, who was visiting, and I ventured out to the Wailing Wall at the center of the Old City.  There was no one there but us, and a lone Jewish man across the barricade at the men's section, chanting a long, ululating Hebrew chant; soon the muezzin from the Dome of the Rock, across the wall, joined in with his call to prayer, and just then a strange wild wind blew up around us, and I could swear to this day that it was the Ruach Adonai...


Julia said...

Thanks for sharing this. As a Christian and also someone who loves to travel this is the best post I've read all year! The pictures and stories are so interesting.

bindhiya said...

Dear Leah,
Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us..
I am sure you felt relived when you back in home town...

have a good evening.
love and ((hugs)) to you and family

Sweetie, Thank you for your kind words...

Beverly said...

Thanks for a wonderful post. I have a good friend who left today for Jerusalem. It's her b'day gift to herself, and your post makes me feel like I'll understand her experience a little bit.

I agree with Julia; this is one of the best posts I've read all year!

Skeeter said...


What a beautiful posting. From such a great city! Love the pictures and all that tasty food in the store.

Thanks a million. Best wishes.

kylie said...

i was just telling someone today that i'd like to go to Jerusalem, especially the wailing wall. your expression that you might run into God around any corner is exactly the feeling i get without even going there. beautifully described, you.
i was watching a doco on sunday where we saw rabbis studying and praying together so i'm wondering why the rocking in prayer? does it have a particular significance? or is it kind of like a physical exclamation mark ?
have a wonderful weekend

(Not-So) Cynical Gal said...

I felt that kind of magic, with God around every corner when I was in Scotland. Only it was more mystical and almost eerie at times.

Must be the mixed-ness of my heritage...Mom's Jewish, Dad was Protestant.

Thanks for an amazing post!

Cecile said...

Very interesting. The photos are wonderful. Thank you.

MJ said...

*takes the shallow road and comments on how well-matched the earrings are with your outfit*


cool pics!!!

Kookaburra said...

G'day Leah,
What a wonderful and evocative post. I'm so glad that I stopped by at this time; i might have overlooked this Post if i was here later. I played the mp3 and heard the yearning in the chant.
I can't remember if i have been here before. Are you related to Brian, CSI Seattle. I should know but don't; please forgive me.

Cheeers and beers,
Mark XX
Hi to julia, bindi, beverly, skeeter, kylie, (not-so)cynical gal, cecile, mj and inner voices

Suzanne said...

What a beautiful post Leah. I'm not supposed to be here, but I am, and I'm happy. I would have been sorry if I'd missed this one. The photos are just gorgeous. I feel transported. I'm not a big traveler. Not because I don't have and interest, but because with all the years in college, work and now the kids, I've never had the time. I hope to one day. Thank you for sharing this, it is so lovely.


Suzanne said...

Hey honey, Random Chicks birthday is actually today, the 15th, Father's Day! Stop by for one more go at it!!!


P.S. Hope your family had a beautiful Father's Day. XO

Robyn said...

WOW! WHat a great post Leah! Loved it! Especially the bottom half! Great photos!
Hugs and come for a visit!

Anonymous said...


Hurrah! I inspired you!! :-) *sense of pride*

I am SO happy that you posted some pics of Jerusalem - they're truly amazing. I get the feel of the place just by looking at them, but it wouldn't be enough. I want to go there now for a visit......

I must just go back and check the mp3 out.....

thanks for sharing....

take care,
Peter x

Anonymous said...

The call to prayer...

haunting and beautiful.....

Cecile said...

Just dropping by to say HI.

Leah said...

Hi folks--I didn't comment back, but I was really enjoying hearing from everyone. Thanks for reading.

And Kylie--that was an excellent question, about the swaying when praying (hey, that rhymes). As with all questions relating to things Jewish, there are many answers. The simplest is that it helps one focus--and yes, I think it is like a physical emphasis. But it's not a rule of prayer--rather, one can do it or not. I find that when I'm standing in synagogue for long periods of time, reciting silent prayer, it just helps to sway a little...

Hi Mark! I'm so glad you cam to visit!

Yay, Peter's here!

And welcome Julia--I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

Hi to everyone else--again, thanks for reading.