The Western Wall

The driver dropped me at the Damascus Gate, the principle entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem

A multicultural place, simmering with tensions that eschews intermixing
Within an hour I’d passed the Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish quarters all with their distinctive characters

The Christian and Armenian quarters are dignified, worn, but with prepossessing buildings
The Muslim quarter like a medina in Morocco
The Jewish part is noticeably wealthier; new buildings in traditional stone; the fabric of the city well looked after

I stopped for a wine and blessed the glass as the pretty barmaid passed it to me; bo’re p’ri hagafen  

I dragged the Hebrew from the depths of my memory
I’d learnt to read Hebrew at Sunday School, but apart from the more common prayers and hymns, I didn’t know what I was saying
At thirteen, for my bar mitzvah, I’d conducted part of a Saturday morning service, in the synagogue, and read from the bible… in Hebrew; apparently, assuredly, but having no understanding of the Hebrew

She was born in Israel, the daughter of American émigrés; obviously western but you could tell the US hadn’t been her home
I conjectured that her parents might only speak English and Yiddish, but at school and with friends she’d speak Hebrew

There’s something very engaging about some people that have a mix of languages acquired from an early age
How they sometimes use them awkwardly, and who don’t entirely understand each one

As though the limits of their childhood comprehension would only allow knowledge of one, or, parts of more than one language
How appearance and language, personality and place sometimes don’t quite fit together

Though, most people in these situations are admirably polyglot, I’m charmed by her awkwardness provoked by her openness to communicate in English

Pinned to a cork board, at the side of the bar, were about fifty postcards from tourists that had appreciated her hospitality, written in English, from: the USA, Canada, the UK, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and surprisingly Belgium
There were words and idioms she didn’t understand so I spent some time explaining them to her

Drinking-up I wandered through the narrow lanes until they opened out into a large square with the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock facing me

Down endless flights of steps, I could see in the distance, black robed chassidics bobbing backwards and forwards as they prayed against the Western Wall

With a cardboard yumulkah stapled together on the crown of my head, I touched the Wall, and thought about my Grandfather who’d always wanted to be here

photography and text by Tim Harris
This entry was published on May 12, 2017 at 6:30 pm. It’s filed under Israel, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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