Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Old City

It was chilly in the morning so Zahara and I brought our coffee in bed. While still wrapped in blankets we talked for a few hours. Conversations with Zahara are always quiet and electric. We talked of the similarities between medicine and religion. How in order to affect a human behavior, whether to adopt a new health behavior or to absorb a religion, you need to stop listening with your mouth and your notions. We talked about the Palestinian conflict. And we talked about boys and how they’re silly and how we’re silly around them. Love boys.

When asking people for directions I always expect them to have some thick exotic accent. I’m shocked when instead they have a Brooklyn accent. And I’m back on Flatbush eating a knish and talking about “oi vey what a mench he is!”
I took a bus into the old city and visited the church of the Holy Sepulcher—one of the holiest spots in Christianity. It was dark and full of solemn ambiance. Candles lit the cave-like church and highlighted the women crying and bowing. I saw a long line and asked a priest what it was for.

“It is the tomb. “

“Of whom?”

“Of Jesus. Kind of important.”

Ha. My bad.

I waited online behind a woman who was incessantly bowing and making the cross symbol. I ducked into a tiny doorway and knelt by the tomb. The woman opened the top button of her shirt and let her cross touch the coffin. She cried and kissed the coffin again and again. She pulled aside a picture of Mary and touched the original wall of the tomb. I was so touched. Not by the tomb of a man I don’t believe in, but by her incredibly visceral faith. It was beautiful.

I left the church and allowed myself to get lost in the marketplace. It was very similar to an Indian marketplace except they were selling statues of Jesus instead of Krishna. I found Linas. A very hole in the wall place with apparently the best hummus in Jerusalem. I sat down and was immediately served the most delicious warm pita and hummus piled high with whole chickpeas, oil, and parsley. I washed it down with a fresh pomegranate juice. It was my kind of holy.

I got lost again in the marketplace and found myself in the Muslim quarter. A little girl spit on me and a boy kicked a bag at me. I kept walking deeper. A young boy taunted Israeli soldiers. I walked deeper. I was panicky but I wanted to reach the end. I bought some earrings made with Palestinian coins and then I turned around.

There are soldiers everywhere. Young boys with large guns. It’s frightening.

I met Z and we walked to the Jewish quarter. We went to the crowded and pulsing Wailing Wall. I had taken up a collection of messages to stick in the crevices from friends and family. I laid my head against the wall and did my best to pray. The women around me were crying softly into their hands and rocking back and forth. I found myself praying for the fifteenth time this week for a strength of faith. Faith not necessarily of religion but a faith in myself. A faith 1/8th as strong as the women I saw around me. A prayer I have said to myself in a Christian, Muslim and now Jewish setting. A prayer that hopefully one day I’ll listen to.

Zahara and I walked around Jerusalem’s night streets and ran into two friends from the states. Zach and Phil! We all ducked into a bar and sat on couches and I drank Israel’s infamous Arak. A licorice alcoholic drink. It burned like hell. Phil is in Israel learning from drum Maestros. Zach is in Israel studying cheese and bread making on a farm in the north and in a few months will take his trade to Tuscany to start his own cheese and bread business.

We said goodbye to Phil and Zach and met Ari, another friend from the states for a drink at a sports bar. And then we took a bus home sleepily and full and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

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