A Jerusalem love letter
by Carmel Kaufman
My relationship with you seems less like a journey towards and more similar to the waves on the sand. You were the constant, there before I was and sure to be here after. It was I- who left, returned, and left again. You were always there with open arms, long lines, and the discordant sound of the unfamiliar.
I grew up dreaming of you, but not knowing you. I missed and pined for you without understanding your beauty, ferocity, and tranquility. I knew the tragedies that you suffered, the pain that you had endured, but that was all I knew. I knew you as a survivor and a long lost relative, but you are so much more. When I am with you...I am better. Did you know that? Did you know that I long to be a native, someone who can speak with you directly through your native tongue? I act differently around you, attempting to impress you, trying to fit in so that you don't notice how much I fear losing you or you rejecting me.
You humble me daily as I walk your streets, understanding little but gaining infinitely in your presence. Seeing the light reflect off of the stone is blinding and yet the people here don't mind. They walk confidently through you. I try to mirror them, hoping to learn through osmosis. They cross the streets with confidence despite the blaring of car horns. They laugh without fear and while they appear to be the antithesis of my native culture they are soft towards each other. They are like you. They must appear tough and strong, as if made of stone. Digging deeper though I have found that past that exterior they are compassionate, genuine, and attentive. Those who live within you adopt your traits. Our relationship is different though. I have had to work and earn my place among you. Every sentence I compose in your native language is thought out long before and rehearsed. I have never been that way before. You challenge me. I haven't been here long enough to feel comfortable and yet I know that this to be home. This has always been home. Do you know that?
Do you breathe a sigh of relief when people come here, gaze upon your beauty and are inspired or has it gotten old over the years? Maybe for those who aren't here very long it can seem as though you are only your most notable features but I am learning you are so much more. You are flowers growing in the rock. The echoing of ancient songs through centuries old stone. Little notes and graffiti signifying from one soul to the next "I was here, this is my mark on the world".
Yet you have heard so much more than your fair share of wailing, the raining down of gun-fire, and destruction. When soldiers walk through you do you whisper prayers for their safety? Do you guide them and count them individually remembering those who had come before them? I would like to think that they remember you. You unite us all. I wonder what you think when Arabs, Christians, and Jews all walk within your streets. Is it as if you are watching estranged brothers and sisters? This cannot be pleasant for you. There are some who avoid you all together because of the conflict, others who deny your history, and still more who come to you looking to shed blood. To me you seem like the matriarch who tolerates so much from her descendants with only the hope that they will come together again.
We have much to learn from you.
Are you pained when people look down at you and only look at the scars, trash and baggage that you carry? Are you flattered when people come to meander around your streets and marvel at the beauty and spirituality that resides among you? The more I think about it the more I think you and I are similar. I hope you don't mind me saying that. I can only think that if I missed you, how much more did you miss me... I am one of many who came here not expecting to stay and yet, here I am. I heard your sirens song echoing in the deep chambers in my heart and it awoke something within me.
There is something special about being in your presence. It encourages me to learn about myself, my family, my faith. Do you keep track of everyone that comes here? Are there family trees that you have compiled throughout the years? If you do, are there gaps where families were unable to come to see your glory for centuries? Are you able to fill in the trees, despite the gaps? My story is one of thousands whose families all ached and longed to be reunited with you and yet there were generations who never stepped within your walls. My ancestors were here, I know you know that but it changes me every time I think about it. They breathed, walked, spoke, slept, smiled, laughed, built families in the same places I walk through to get a slice of pizza with my friends. There are stories written about all that has happened to you. These books while interesting only present one side, after all they can only tell one story. Yet you are filled with endless narratives from kings and prophets to children playing frisbee in the sunshine outside.
It is easy to take you for granted, you are close and yet so elusive. There are times though that I catch myself thinking about you and I wonder to myself how long I have been in love with you. There is nothing quite like you. You are glorious in the most magnificent and mundane ways. You inspire others and you grow yourself. At times I have to stop and reflect on what a gift it is to be close to you. To be able to whisper thank you with every step and see the sunset light the trees and hilltops on fire.
Even thinking about leaving you is pain. I have done it numerous times and it never gets easier. This is my entreaty to you; please let this time be a permanent reunion. If you could open your heart to me I will do my part to fill my place within you with laughter, love, faith, and passion. You are not just a city, but a catalyst for transformation in my life and in the life of others.
This is not my last letter to you my love.
Carmel Kaufman currently lives in her favorite city in the world, Jerusalem, originally from the States. She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and is passionate about Israel. In her spare time Carmel likes to hike, take pictures, hang out with friends and go to the beach.