Well, I've completed all of my coursework for the semester, taken my last exam, and I only have a few days left to explore Jerusalem, gather my belongings, and fly to the other Promised Land - the "goldine medina."
In the meantime, it was with bittersweet feelings that I approached this Shabbat, wanting it to be perfect and memorable, but knowing that some of the most beautiful Shabbats of the year were already behind me. Sometimes I find self-reflexivity to be an emotionally painful task - being so aware of the last-ness of the Shabbat, I tried so hard to impress upon myself every detail of it, but knowing that the details fade quickly and that by the end of the day the sharpness of the image of its beginning will already have begun to wane in my mind's eye. It is with this in mind that I write of my final Jerusalem Shabbat, trying to preserve the important bits for just a while longer.
A friend of mine, Rebecca, had made plans with me for Friday to cook together and invite friends to my apartment. What started as a small gathering grew into the largest assembly of assorted individuals I've hosted in our apartment - the 15 bodies took up every seat that could possibly have been squished into the living room.
Knowing that we were expecting the large crowd, I began preparing for their visit as soon as I arrived home from my Hebrew exam. I started with a frenzy of cleaning - sweeping, scrubbing, putting-away, and interspersed these activities with putting sliced, spiced beets in the oven and braiding the challah. My friends Corrinna and Andrew arrived early to drop off a watermelon at the apartment and I enlisted their help in cleaning off plastic chairs, chopping vegetables, and even washing dishes. You know you have good friends when they'll do your dishes for you!
While we were cooking I received a phone call from my friend and neighbor Amy, telling me that at the corner between our apartment buildings, where an organization often leaves used books for passers-by to browse and take, there were stacks and stacks of Yiddish books. Corrinna and I left Andrew to watch after the challah in the oven and we ran down to the book drop-off area. Corinna picked up a copy of Ethan Frome in Hebrew, among other gems, and I found an astonishing wealth of Yiddish texts to choose from. I may not be able to carry all of the books that I took back to the US, but for now I have several Yiddish journals dating from 1943 to 1961, most of them issues of Yiddishe Kultur or Di Tzukunft (the Future) as well as a 1938 copy of David Pinsky's travelogue of a trip to Israel from the summer of 1932 to the sumer of 1936, published in Warsaw, a 1966 copy of Nachum Sutzkever's Personalities and Folk, published in Jerusalem, a 1996 copy of "Human Salad" by Joseph Hayblum, which was published in Israel with the assistance of the Mutlicultural Program of the Department of the Secretary of State of Canada, and a 1986 printing of "Tear and Smile" a collection of poetry and songs by David Shav-Artza, published in Israel. I'm very excited about all of this, though it would take me forever to read even one of these books.
By the time Rebecca arrived at 3:30 pm, two veggie dishes were complete, the challah was in the oven, and the apartment was on the verge of cleanliness. Then the real work began. On a 98 degree afternoon, we kept the oven and stovetop going for hours, our hands never free from work and our feet aching from it. We made guacamole with sliced vegetables, mujedra, oven-roasted potatoes, lentil soup, chocolate cake, apple appricot tart, cole slaw, and more. We rearranged the furniture into a 15-person circle, put out the Shabbat candles and wine, and waited for the guests to arrive.
The dinner was definitely a success - there was plenty of food and a lot of conversation. The guests were an interesting mix between those traveling to Jerusalem for the summer, or just for a quick vacation, and those who are here for a year or more, some older and some younger, some Jewish and some not, and I was surprised how willing people were to get to know new people. I was very sorry, though, to say goodbye to Paola at the end of the night, as I don't think we'll see each other again before we leave. I am so grateful to have had her friendship this year, and I do hope that one day I'll go to Italy to visit her!
The last remaining guests helped me clean a bit, though there's still some cleaning work to do, and pretty late at night. I woke up and dressed for services at Har El. It was a small congregation - a bar mitzvah with a tremendous voice read from the Torah, and I was given an aliyah during which Rabbi Ada blessed me and wished me a safe journey and that I should consider Har El my home in Israel.
In the afternoon, Atar Katz (my neighbor) took me on a tiyyul around Jerusalem, to catch some sights I had not yet seen. He was born in Jerusalem and has lived here is whole life, and his mind is filled with stories of Jerusalem's history. As we drived around the city he told me story after story (this was my real Hebrew final exam!) of ancient history, the building of the state, of the people and events that happened in this city with its layers and layers of pasts and cultures. We drove up to Mt. Scopus, driving on the road where the 1948 Mt. Scopus bus attack occurred, and stopped at an overlook to see East Jerusalem and the desert beyond, reaching toward the Dead Sea. Mr. Katz gave me a geography lesson, using the knuckles of his hand to represent the grooves of the valleys and mountains of Jerusalem. According to Mr. Katz, Mt. Scopus gets its name because it was the mountain from which the priests used to watch the sky to determine if the stars were out and the holiday had begun, lighting a bonfire that would signal to other watchmen to light their bonfires on other mountains so the word could travel that it was time for the holdiay to begin. We then drove to the Mt. of Olives, where 150,000 Jewish bodies lie in graves, awaiting the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the Jews. Ancient and modern tombstones alike form the necropolis. Mr. Katz told me a story that when the Messiah comes, there will be two bridges from the Mt. of Olives to the Temple Mount - one made out of iron and the other out of paper. Those who lack faith will take the safer-looking iron bridge, and it will break and they will fall, returning to death. The faithful will take the paper bridge, which will lead them to the Temple Mount. Mr. Katz pointed out to me the Seven Arches Hotel (formerly the Intercontinental Hotel) which, he says, we can see from our balcony. The hotel was constructed during Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem along a road that he built in violation of the 1949 Armistice agreement accross the cemetary, destroying thousands of graves, some dating back to the First Temple period.
We drove down to the bottom of the Mt. of Olives (the Kidron Valley) to see Absolom's Pillar, traditionally believed to be the tomb of Absalom, son of King David. It's archetectural style shows Greek influence, and it is now believed that it may have been the tomb of Temple priest Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist.
We drove past the Dung Gate and through the city to Talpiyot, a neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem. Mr. Katz pointed out Machane Allenby, the former British army camp, and told me stories of the British conquest of Jerusalem. He also showed me the former home of the British High Commissioner to Jerusalem, now the headquarters of the UN in Jerusalem.
Mr. Katz and I walked through a park to see the remains of a Herodian aqueduct, where a hole showing the ancient ducts is situated on a mosaic map showing its ancient route.
It was a whirlwind tour of about two and a half hours, after which I took a long nap, and woke in time to write this post before going to play some board games with friends who leave Jerusalem tomorrow, heading home to the US.