The idea to travel to any other destination in Europe didn’t appeal to me anymore. Instead I changed plans, I called Louis and he directed me to Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv.
“You’ll have more fun in Tel Aviv but I think Jerusalem will have a deeper impact on you.”
I flew to Israel on Thursday and landed late at night.
I didn’t feel anything spiritual or sentimental when landing in the holy land. Many of the passengers on the flight did.
I got my bag and went through customs. There was a driver waiting for me and he helped me with my bags.
The driver was an Israeli Arab.
“You live in Israel?” I asked.
“In Jerusalem, in the new city.”
“How do you get along with the Jewish people?”
“We get along fine until the leaders and the trouble makers get involved.”
“That’s usually the case.”
That was the general consensus at the time. That’s all I am going to talk about this other than mutual respect should be the barometer not the chants and the violence.
I checked into the King David hotel and fell onto the bed, within seconds I was fast asleep.
When I awoke it was dark and the clock said 3 o’clock. I was terribly disorientated and my head was pounding. I wanted to get up and unpack but I had no energy so I just lay there in a stupor between awake and sleep, thinking.
I thought about the thirty two years in my life. I had failed at every relationship, business and even my own father didn’t trust me.
I looked at the clock again and it said, five o’clock.
I unpacked, showered and went searching for a cup of coffee.
As I walked towards the Western Wall, there was a familiarity in the aromas of the old city. A combination of a thousand spices, dough baking and some sort of tobacco or incense which filled the air.
The sky was intensely blue, the temperature was cool but warming up with each passing moment. The city was wide awake and the call for prayers amplified as the people milled around working and preparing for the day.
I bought hot bread from a vendor, I handed him five U.S. dollars for three pieces of pita bread. (I didn’t have any Israeli currency yet). Another vendor was pushing a cart with three giant urns.
“Coffee or tea?”
“Yes, coffee please.”
The coffee cost me ten U.S. dollars, the first sip burned my lip. The second sip, “put hair on my chest” and it’s mud like texture had an instant impact.
I was flying.
All around I spied young kids, who seemed to be barely 20 years old. They were dressed in army uniforms and carrying really big guns on their torsos. Some were wearing yarmulkes and they each were very good looking. Then I saw a group of female soldiers and I could not believe how modelesque they appeared. They were laughing but were clearly scoping the crowd to ensure safety.
A man must’ve sensed my surprise and he began to speak to me.
“Yes, how’d you know?”
“Your face after that sip of coffee gave it away.”
“My name is Aaron, I grew up in Great Neck, moved here four years ago with my family. Do you have anywhere to eat shabbat dinner tonight?”
“Oh, I’m not religious and I’m staying in the King David. My name is Freddy, by the way, from Brooklyn.”
“Mets or Yankees?”
“Mets, I despise the Yankees.” We laughed.
“We are also big Mets fans, I used to see them in the 80s in Port Washington.”
“That’s funny, you are the second person to-“
“I pray in the great synagogue across from you and we live right around the corner. It would be my pleasure and my children will be even more thrilled.”
“I am a stranger though. How do you know I’m not a crazy man?”
“You are from Brooklyn and you are a Mets fan. Of course you are crazy. I’ll meet you at the synagogue at 6pm.”
“Do you always invite strangers to your shabbat dinners?”
I went back to walking around the old city and found myself by Jaffa Gate. I went to walk to the Western Wall, I got lost several times as I walked. Then out of nowhere, I saw the wall. I felt a strange pull and a memory of my grandfather flashed in front of me as if it were occurring right there.
It was from when I was getting bar mitzvah and I got to the shul ten minutes late. He looked at me and said, “what took you so long?”
“I got lost along the way.”
“it’s ok, you are here now.” He told me and then he embraced me.
“Excuse me, please wear a kippah.” I took the kippah he handed me and he motioned to a charity box. I gave him a ten dollar bill, again because I didn’t have any Israeli currency. Then a swarm of people approached me asking me for charity. I just walked away as I saw a group of soldiers laughing while watching me.
I smiled and approached them.
“Do you speak English?”
“Yes, of course, ma pitom?”
“This is the Western Wall, what am I supposed to do here? I see people stuffing the walls with paper and others with their heads against it.”
“Are you Jewish?”
“Yes, I am but I am one of those Jews.”
One of the soldiers responded.
“The people are placing their prayers into the wall hoping that God will read them and make them come true. The ones that have their head against the wall, are praying.”
“Does it work?”
They all responded differently. Some in English, some in Hebrew.
“Ok I get it.”
I walked to the wall and felt foolish and misplaced. My only prayer was, “please help me understand.”