Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Yermiyahu

We curiously peek through the half opened door on Yanai Street in Jerusalem as we go in search for Yermiyahu, a Tallit maker who has come very highly recommended. An old man sits quietly on a wooden chair inside his shop right beside the door. As we enter, he barely lifts his head.

“Excuse me, sir,” I say in Hebrew. “Are you Yermiyahu?” He nods affirmatively without a word. He does not move.

“Our uncle Sid sent us to see you. He says you are the best Tallit maker in town.” A smile slowly spreads across his face. He cautiously stands from the chair leaning heavily with his two arms on the sides for support. In English, he begins to ask what we’re looking for.

Our granddaughter is becoming Bat Mitzvah in another month. We’re in Jerusalem and we want to bring her a Tallit “miyuchad” (original and special)

Yermiyahu’s guidance is slow. First we pick the fabric for the shawl. Stella wants it simple. We choose a satiny white on white design and feel confident that we can’t really go wrong with the natural, linen fabric. Yermiyahu tells us later, that his cloth is thicker than most. That’s one of the ways that makes it a little unique. Because Stella is tall, we ask for extra length.

Yermiyahu directs us to all his hand woven strips specifically created for the Atarah (collar) of the Tallit as well as for the four corners of the shawl. Stella wanted some pink in her shawl, and made it clear she wanted it gentle. We choose the fabric for the embellishment of the shawl.

We know, from what people have said, that Yermiyahu ties his own tzitzit. They are noticeably handmade, a bit crude perhaps, and unique.

We arrange to have a matching bag for Stella to carry her Tallit and ensure that it always stays safe and protected. The same adornments from the shawl are used.

Over the next few days we spend several hours with Yermiyahu. The Tallit becomes more alive with each moment we talk, share cups of tea, and encourage him to tell his story. As he works, Yermiyahu talks. His voice is soft and unsteady. His eyes tear throughout the storytelling. I’m not sure if it is nostalgic sadness, or, perhaps tears of honey. Perhaps there is a bit of fear that he will soon be gone. Yermiyahu tells us that when he came to Jerusalem, after emigrating from Yemen, he began to make decorations for synagogues in the neighbourhood. Later, as he became more industrious, he created Yemenite dresses. As the dresses became more popular, Yermiyahu shipped them to all parts of the world. His business thrived. He ended up being quite successful.

Now, married for 68 years, he has 6 children and 17 grandchildren. When he speaks about them all, his eyes tear again and his lower lip protrudes as the tears flow without restraint.

I end up loving this man… loving the Tallit and knowing, that we are doing absolutely the right thing. We are purchasing a whole package here, a history…not just a prayer shawl.

I hope and pray that Stella will love it too, and that she will wear it with pride, confidence and determination to make a difference in our world as Jews and as human beings, all of us, everywhere.



Friday, February 17, 2017

Shabbat Looms In Jerusalem

Friday in the Machane Yehuda shuk is unlike any market experience I’ve ever had!

When I was younger and living in Israel, the shuk was completely open to the sky. Now a large part of it is covered, protecting everyone from inclement weather.

With hundreds of stalls lining the narrow pathways, Jerusalemites and tourists alike come here to buy anything they need. Fresh produce, warm baked goods, fish, meat and cheeses, nuts, seeds and spices are all displayed openly for the picking. Wines and liquors, clothing and shoes, housewares, textiles, and Judaica are all in plentiful supply here.


Paul and I had fun buying spices. Zatar mixed with various flavours enticed me. We made lots of little bags to bring home for ourselves and for gifts for friends - mixtures of various spices combined with seeds, nuts and herbs that can be added to rice dishes or pastas. Ready-made seasoning for fish and meat can create the uniqueness of Israeli, or at least Middle Eastern tastes. In the stalls wig-clad women speak to me in Brooklyn accents advising me about recipes using these mixtures, and telling me where I can buy the freshest, most delicious cheeses. “Welcome home” says one woman to me. “Shabbat Shalom.”

The market offers cubbies full of sweets and colourful candies. Bakeries offer warm sticky baked rugalach that beg me to eat them. I do! Fresh vegetables and fruits, newly baked challot and anything else needed for tonight’s Shabbat dinner line the many streets of the city’s biggest outdoor market. As I walk through the narrow passageways I hear people wishing each other “Shabbat Shalom”, a peaceful Sabbath. Where else in the world do you get to hear this?

Not everyone is so welcoming in Jerusalem. There is a familiarity that borders on rudeness. In the market, some merchants barely even lift their heads as they answer questions. It’s a bit like family here. Sometimes we treat each other with too little gratitude and a whole lot of expectation and judgment. I’m not sure why, but I still feel okay. It’s not always nice. But it’s always real, and the familial loyalty makes it bearable.

The sun is beginning to set over the hills of Jerusalem. The shops are closing. The lights are shutting down. There is a quietness settling in the air as the streets empty. The music becomes quieter as the solemnity of Shabbat sheds its presence on the city. A new week approaches and Jerusalem reflects the miracle of the day of rest.

As Shabbat arrives in Jerusalem, even the birds flutter about looking for their nests. The lights dim and the residents are inside their homes preparing for the quiet. Even the flower seller at the bottom of the road finishes for the week and packs his empty pails to go home.

There is no place in the world like Jerusalem on Shabbat. “There is Jerusalem and then there’s the rest of the world,” I’ve heard said. I feel that strongly here as Machane Yehuda closes its doors until tomorrow night’s stars shine. Shabbat Shalom to all. 







Thursday, February 9, 2017

Oh, Oh What a Beautiful City!


After midnight
It’s after midnight and the streets of Jerusalem are alive with music. Our apartment for the next two weeks is right smack in the middle of Jaffa Street. Crossing the city from east to west, Jaffa is one of the oldest and longest streets in Jerusalem. This is the heart of the city, with all its arteries flowing throughout into the various areas, each rich with specific spirit and purpose.

The Light Rail
I revel in the sounds of the city. It bustles constantly with Israeli music stridently blasting from the street and the many shops, businesses and restaurants that line the road. Pedestrians from all over the world connect with the “triple” intersection of Machane Yehude Market, Central Bus Station and King George. The car free passage offers an electric train (Jerusalem Light Rail opened in 2011) for those who don’t want to walk from one end of the street to the other. It’s a far cry from the camels and mules that originally carried us to and from our destinations here.

Music everywhere
Even after midnight, the energy of life permeates the streets and flows into our apartment. Laughter, loud voices, conversations that sound more like yelling matches continue until the early hours of the morning. Sleep is almost impossible for me without earplugs.  We are told that Thursday night at about 9:00 this Jerusalem central comes even more alive with a multitude of musical choices offered in caf├ęs and bars throughout the area. Music, joyousness and a noticeable expression of joie de vive abounds.

"Quiet" time on Jaffe
I am remembering my past as if it was another life. It is sometimes hard to fathom all I have done in 62 years. As I walk the streets of Jerusalem I feel the same excitement as I felt during my years living here (1972-73). The city has changed drastically since then. Architecturally, it is completely unfamiliar with shopping malls, bridges, high-rise buildings, intricate road structures and spectacular bridges making life here seem so ‘grown up’. I love the Jerusalem of old with the abandoned hills, simple stone buildings and the quiet of undemanding life.
"Quiet" time on Jaffe

Today, the city is complicated with the beauty of multi-culturalism. In the streets, only half the time do I hear people speaking in Hebrew. The other half is mostly English with lots of Arabic. Many many people speak Russian and Spanish and French. I am amazed at how many non-Hebrew languages can be heard.

Busy, Busy, Busy!
This afternoon, siesta time in Israel, I take my glass of beer and my quiet mindset out to our merpeset (balcony) for a rest. Nothing stops here on Jaffa Street. There seems no rest, no reprieve from the busyness of the city. Hundreds of people continue to move about, most of them with their cell phones held to their ears while talking loudly, smoking cigarettes and carrying on with the events of their day.


I am loving every minute!!!
This is where we live!