Sometimes I feel as though we’re on a ship. Where it is sailing, might never become evident, but this weather especially encourages such a line of thought. We live on the top floor of one of the taller buildings in this old neighborhood; the penultimate, our neighbor says, because he’s half a floor up from us, but if this is a ship, then his level is simply the masthead. He flies the Jolly Roger on his porch and could pass for a British pirate but for his kippa. Or Admiral Boom, blast his gizzard. The wind is howling in our skylights, and it blows in premature darkness, the grey kind, even before the pre-Sabbath siren. Somewhere close by people are singing, the tune rising up and mixing in the pouring rain, and this ship resembles Noah’s Ark, because we just might be washed away by all this, man and beast, over the waves of the red tiled roofs, together with the garbage and houseplants littering these densely inhabited sidestreets.
I am reading (finally, finally), greedily devouring words and pictures, in the safety of my bed, my blanket, my hippo-eared robe. Can’t focus entirely on the book, however, the mind flooding as it is with images swarming in from the outside. This is a land of images. Everything here is a story, cinematic, charismatic, graphic, so very visual. If only I could draw properly.
My illustrated stories would feature the two Orthodox priests in floor-length black robes and rocker ponytails, chattering in excited Greek over spatulas and baking pans at Ikea. The bride and party entering the same Ikea through the checkout stands, perhaps to film an entertaining wedding video. The black-and-white-wearing Orthodox Jew holding his wife’s purse while she slides down the handrail, instead of taking the stairs down to Bezalel street, and shouts up to him delightedly. The mist devouring the city and adding an air of mystery to the already deeply mythological views of the hills; perhaps our mist up here is somebody in the valley’s clouds, we say, as we walk on our mist-surrounded, contextless path.
Would that I could draw, I could show you how the colors of this city transform themselves and gleam with a new brightness in the endless rain, and how some of the religious men turn into pathetically touching mushrooms with cellophane baggies wrapped around their precious hats against moisture; how a young soldier with an iPod, a minute ago involved in a discussion about fuckable girls in Tel Aviv with his boorish mates now sits away from them on the train and asks every woman coming in whether she wants his seat, and how widely the cafeteria girl smiles at the sight of my dashing blond colleague.
I would portray the brilliance of Jaffa St. in the morning, the damp ground and the train rails glistening underfoot, the sun blinding so that the street seems to disappear as it goes downhill; the market, always a quest, sellers swirling around like dervishes, shouting, shouting, calling for gods know what, though seemingly just for buyers; the surreal experience of working, joking, catching colds, and sipping coffee in a place where others come in flocks to be shaken by some of the deepest emotion and most devastating sadness possible; of the countless improbable meetings and fortuitous coincidences— in short, life as it is here, and it is very different from life elsewhere.
I don’t think I can draw, however. As my experiments progress, dear diary, you will be the first to know.
Sometimes a journey can last a lifetime. Our journey to Jerusalem did. And it also lasted a year. And also six weeks. And also ten days. And also 24 hours.
We had been talking for years about moving here. On and off, we kept wondering why most of our friends are here, and we aren’t. Why we insist on inflicting the harsh Eastern European climate on ourselves. Why we live in a city where A. has nothing to entice and challenge him. Why we keep visiting here, but never stay.
A year ago exactly, at the end of January 2011, as we were riding the bus from Eilat to Jerusalem having just crossed the Egyptian border, with the intention of grabbing our things from a friend’s house and running to the airport to go home, we suddenly made a pact we would put an end to this. A year from now, we vowed, we would move here for good. We started telling everyone we knew, to make it impossible to go back on the decision. We started our preparations… no, that we didn’t do. This we put off. Instead, we traveled. Just talking about the move was enough, just prefacing most of our future tense sentences with “when we move,” or “while we’re still here”. We had a chance to secure visas here in August, then in November, but neither worked out.
Six weeks ago A. had to go to Russia. Things had become critical there, and his presence was needed. There were also the visa troubles to attend to, and that, too, pushed him to the country he was trying, almost, to denounce. It transpired that he had to stay there for an entire month. I went out there for the latter half of it to share this time, and together amid the snow, we said our thorough goodbyes to our friends, which did not bring as much pain as it could have. Soon, thought we, we would never have to see snow again. And soon enough our loved ones would come visit.
Ten days ago we were finally in Vilnius again. There was a daunting task ahead of us: we hadn’t begun our packing, and nothing was to be left in the apartment we were leasing out. Not to mention that we still had no visa. The anticipated frantic scramble led me to escalating hysteria before even the first carton was opened to pile books inside. The house I had accustomed myself to seeing as my refuge, my shelter, was now at a late stage of a decaying disease which was robbing it of its personality, its ourness. Our pictures were removed, and empty frames gaped at me from the walls with embarrassing woodenness. Every meeting with every friend or relative reeked of finality. I had my goodbye roda at capoeira class and did not tear up, though I had fully expected to. This was it. It was snowing non-stop, and I felt as if my heart’s city was cleansing itself of me, covering itself up after our prolonged amorous encounter. We took a train to freezing Minsk and after a measured amount of humiliation returned the same day with passports bearing Israeli visas.
On Wednesday, our physical journey began. We loaded all of our possessions into a minivan. The cat was trembling in his plastic confinement, driven into shock by the tribulations he sensed were ahead. A good eight hours later, we were in a dingy room on the outskirts of Minsk. I dealt with the unreal reality by immersing myself in work. After four hours of sleep we continued on the next leg of the trip, which was the scariest flight I’d ever experienced because it was obviously the scariest thing the cat had ever experienced. On the plane, I read John Green’s new novel, The Fault In Our Stars. By landing-time, the cat was screaming and foaming at the mouth, he had soiled himself and left a deep gash in my hand in his attempt to flee, and I was suddenly crying, either because of the book, his suffering, or the realization that only then began to dawn, that we had left home for good.
Ironically, Welcome Home was the motto of the afternoon. Having cleaned up the poor beast, we were carted to an old and homemade-looking absorption center, where we were cooed over, given coffee, and handed our first papers and some cash. Then followed a cab ride with fellow new Jerusalemites, one of them a slightly jaded-sounding American poet, another – a red-cheeked turtle. Finally, the journey was over. All of them were. It was suddenly clear that the journey, for me, was an end in itself. All of the emotional, physical, and financial investment had led to this point in time, and nothing else. It came as a surprise that after moving here, we also had to live here.
I am sipping hot water now, wrapped in someone’s warm poncho, wearing untied shoes, in a red armchair in the corner of a friend’s house. I spent the morning working on stylist interviews and Turkish Jewish music, while A. was out and people were playing vaguely French tunes on an accordion and the battered organ downstairs. There is work to do and our own apartment to find. There are places to go and people to meet. The cat is fine. Winter’s bleak sunshine is filling the yard. It is exceptionally cold. It is shabbat.
The airport smells of palm trees. A Filipino cleaning lady is sitting in the empty corridor, rocking back and forth with a note and a cellphone in her hand. Are you beseder, okay?, I ask in Hebrew. She looks up uncertainly. Hebrew no, sorry, she says. English? Russian?, I ask. Ruski, she lights up. Is everything horosho, okay? Do you need help? She sighs and gets up to point at something for me. No no, I protest, I help you, yes? You need? She rocks her head slowly, turns to her supplies cart, hangs about for a while then pushes it off down a passage.
Jerusalem smells of spicy meat, hot asphalt, something sweet. At night it smells of flowers fluttering in the light wind from the hills. It does not smell of figs, though when I come out into the courtyard they are sticky under my bare feet. Sadeh?, asks the postman. No, I reply. Water bill in their name, he says. I shrug – okay. Sign here, he says, giving me the bill in an envelope, smaller than the one already on the mirror, in someone else’s name, placed there by somebody other than me.
I like the way time works here (night is just day with the lights switched off, it comes so early and everything takes so little notice of it), the smells and the tastes. Israel tastes to me like breakfast dairy, like freshly baked pita bread of which I eat entirely too much, like the salt of the sea in which I bathe entirely too little, like the curried meats I don’t eat anymore, but their taste lingers, like bottled water, like fresh fruit of so many names and colours.
Someone called me Zionist scum comma pig very recently. Admittedly, I’ve never thought of myself in these terms before, but I do think Israel has the right to protect itself against terrorism. And just because there are beasts in Gaza who happily prop their missile launch pads on their babies’ cribs, that in itself is not reason enough to sit around and let them bomb cities for years during a cease-fire.
Israel tries its damnedest to avoid hitting civilians, while Hamas terrorists aim specifically for them – and then go to Israeli hospitals and get treatment for deteriorated hearing (occupational injury). Israel provides medical services to terrorists who insult personnel and claim that they will get back to shooting missiles as soon as they have been treated. Israel is trying to force out a government which is detrimental to its own citizens.
I really wish there was a way to have every single terrorist drop dead without hurting innocent people (even though it is hard not to wonder to what extent anyone is innocent there, apart from the babies). However, as that is not happening just yet, it would be nice at least not to see people everywhere assuming this absurdly holier-than-thou position of judging Israel for its ‘inadequate response’, ‘cruelty’, ‘massacre’, and ‘genocide’.
I honestly believe that people should either keep out of it or accept that Israel has been fighting this war at great costs for a very long time, and that there is no such thing as being against terrorism, but also against using military methods of forcing it down. One is either against Hamas, and ergo for any way that allows to destroy it, or pro-terrorism, in which case one is not normal and deserves to go fight in the war instead of all the young boys and girls whose parents are going prematurely grey-haired as we speak.