Thursday, June 19, 2014

In Jerusalem 1989

In memoriam of my beautiful son Samson

     Jerusalem felt lively, colorful, friendly. After many months of strikes, demonstrations, and desperation as the Arab populace found their income decreasing, the shops had opened and the atmosphere was relaxed. While my parents toured the religious sites, shrines, churches and tombs, the boys and I wandered through the Old City bazaar, looking at t-shirts, ceramic oil lamps, rugs, mezuzahs, candle-stick holders, and the whole potpourri of hand-made things. They loved to bargain, surprising shopkeepers with their fluency in Hebrew, stubbornly arguing the price down, proudly carrying off their treasures. They each picked a t-shirt with the inscription: The Army--a way to travel, meet interesting people and kill them. I bought sandals.   
     Shlomo, Orit, and Kobi were young Israelis who befriended us. When it came time to leave the apartment, Kobi convinced Shlomo and Orit to take us in. Now we were surrounded by Hebrew conversations and the boys became fluent. Kobi liked to make them laugh. We would go to a cafe to drink coffees and cokes for hours or to a bar and drink beer until late into the night. Kobi had indefatigable energy, driving us to the beach, to the cafes, to a party on Shabbat night. He asked Yoan what he wanted for Christmas, a holiday he didn't celebrate. When Yoan told him a Christmas tree, he went to the Arab quarter to purchase a plastic tree that we couldn't even afford to decorate. I had almost no money but Caren passed her cleaning job on to me while she took a babysitting position. I cleaned a tiny delicatessen from top to bottom for three hours every night. The woman who worked behind the counter resented me because the boss hadn't paid her for three months but paid me cash at the end of every evening. It had to be that way because I needed to buy food for the boys and school supplies and decent shoes.
      Winter was cold and we huddled around the electric heater in the evening. Someone had given me green corduroy pants and I had finally located the thrift shop, mostly a pile of clothes thrown in a heap, where shirts and pants could be purchased for a couple of shekels. I had a beautiful leather jacket that Jay had found in a trash can and given to me.
     Sholmo's parents wanted to sell their apartment. Since it was in the Orthodox neighborhood, they were worried that the presence of "Christians" would contaminate it. Whenever people who were not Sholmo's friends came over, we took the tree apart and hid the pieces under sheets.

--excerpt from Flowers in the Wind
© 2014 Wendy Brown-Baez

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