- A Strange, Familiar City
Ah, you strange familiar city. As I walk your slick rock roads, my memories gently return to me, like a younger brother softly tugging on my shirttails. Memories of a year long gone, a time of incomparable freedoms. A year before children amused and exhausted us, a year before the incessant demands of work would descend upon us, a year of simplicity: my love and I, living in a sun-drenched apartment in Jerusalem. And so, every year I return to you: I walk your streets and I am overcome by vivid recollections, as I traverse every single inch of your pleasantries and your torment.
In the early morning hours I descend your slippery stairs, leading from the Jaffa Gate to the cold, dark labyrinth of the Old City. As the Arab opens the iron gate to his store, displaying his colorful wares, I imagine Amichai walking home after Ne’ilah in 1967, the Year of Forgetting, as he pondered the strange brew of national euphoria and personal depression.
As I wind my way back around your city walls, I remember the dizziness of a long walk home on Shavuot day, after praying at your Southern Wall, destined for the long-awaited darkness of sleep.
Here is where we bought that piece of pottery, a hand-washer of green and golden color—which would break at least four times, before we finally replaced it, last year, on another visit to this city of gold and art. But this year, in my rain-soaked loneliness, I entered the same store twice more; aching for your missing part in my conversation, but nonetheless choosing two pieces that I knew you would love.
Now I repeat my walk home, a walk of a thousand days. A journey that is guided by the hazy mist of memory more than any conscious thought, a journey that moves my feet in one direction or the other as I retrace my steps down Derekh Aza once again. I stopped here more than once for pizza. I frequented this ATM too many times. And of course, here is [End Page 132] Adam’s old apartment: tucked behind a building, a dark dungeon of a hole where he grunted out a year of study and heartbreak.
On my left is the restaurant where I shared a beer with an old camper, now turned friend, as he told me about his passions, his life, his dreams, and his pride at being a soldier in his beloved Israel Defense Forces. As we shared that beer and watched the World Cup, he told me about how, for the first time in his life, he truly knew who he was, where he was from, and what he was destined to become. One month later he was killed in action in southern Lebanon, and two days after that, on Tishah B’Av, he was laid to rest on Har Herzl.
Here is where Dan and Jeremy lived, their towering balcony my bird’s nest as we spied on the intimate ritual of Yom HaZikaron—at first snapping pictures with our cameras, and then sheepishly placing them at our sides, when we discovered ourselves to be shameless voyeurs through an open window of national sorrow.
And here, here is the hill: my reoccurring nemesis. A mammoth and winding hike up the side of a mountain, the only approach to my daily destination, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. I remember each and every album I used as motivation to get me up that hill that year: Sufjan Stevens’ “Come on and Feel the Illinoise,” The Counting Crows’ “Hard Candy,” and Ben Folds’ “Songs for Silverman”—my own personal “songs of ascent.”
The walk home brings me through the fragrant smells of Bustan Brody, up the narrow shortcut leading its way to Rechov HaPalmach. Around the corner, I am guided by aching nostalgia as I make the turn onto HaPortzim: past the violin maker I never had the courage to meet, past the date palm which I know is home to a family of bats who would swoop softly past my window.
Suddenly, there she is. Not much to...