I woke up and felt the gnawing emptiness almost immediately. Trying to imagine what it might be like to walk around Jerusalem, missing Betty’s warm smile and the short walk to the Old City. A Jerusalem, deformed and misshapen, devoid of all of my love. It felt too scary to squirm out from under the covers, so I stayed in bed for a while, staring up at the white paint on my ceiling.
The morning was spent cleaning and packing. Four garbage bags of garbage in my apartment – cottage cheese, almost-used-up shaving cream, a dusty and torn B’tselem report. I took my final shlep to the Shuk to pick up some wet floor towelettes. I couldn’t look at the warm baked breads and fresh fruit juices.
As I hauled down the third garbage bag, I took a break at the intersection between Betzalel and Nehar Prat. The breeze whispered over my body and toward Gan Sacher. The Palestinian family that had offered me orange soda and coffee would not be going back there… Posters seeking revenge and war hung from the entrance to the park, and next to them, posters of biblical dissent placed by Rabbis for Human Rights. I will miss the park that taught me to love evening runs.
And then I was walking up to Nocturno, one of the first cafes that taught me the meaning of hip political cafes (well, two years ago…it’s gotten bigger since then). I sat with an old friend and we ate lots of pasta and chocolate…the best foods for goodbyes. And then we hugged and walked off. Another goodbye.
And then I was rushing to Ha-Chavatzelet to say goodbye to Einat. As I surveyed her spacious one bedroom, I mused aloud that I would be a smarter apartment renter next time around. It was obvious that there would be another time around.
“My wish for you is that you just let things go,” she said.
And we talked about Tel Aviv and the ocean and jobs in public policy. And then we hugged and said goodbye. Another goodbye.
And then a phone call from Aviv. Another goodbye.
I took a pause on Ben Yehuda, a place that has played with my emotions over the years. I still remember my first time there, with my NFTY-in-Israel teen tour. It was hopping with live music and ice-cream parlors and Judaica shops; it was love at first sight. These days, I walk around Ben Yehuda and notice the “Kahane Was Right” stickers and Lehava activists handing out anti-miscegenation flyers. The NFTY teen tours and Birthright groups continue to drop coins into guitar cases, oblivious to the violence lurking in the corners. But this time, for a short pause…I lost my breath.
Love. I love these people. I love everyone walking up and down this strange midrachov. The Palestinian garbage collector who gave All That’s Left a thumbs up at our anti-occupation street theater action. The American seminary girls, giggling and chatting over ice cream. The young Israel boys wearing “Jews Love Jews” shirts and spray painting “Death to Arabs.” The anonymous passersby. I love them all. I have faith in them all. That might sound strange, or even wrong. But I was knocked breathless by the sudden realization of love. I would miss this assortment of complex humanity.
I rushed back to my apartment to meet Eran. My transition out would be his transition (back) in. This Israeli husband and father had taken a much-needed break in France with his family. Now he was returning to Jerusalem out of a sense of duty. He was back to work for love, compassion, coexistence. As we transferred my oven, futon, and kitchen supplies into his car, I was content to know that the modest commodities of my home would nourish another family, another activist in this place.
And then a call from Betty. As we talked, I mused to myself that I would have to get used to the sound of her voice on the telephone. Thank goodness it was a clear and kind voice…another goodbye. Perhaps one that would have been just too hard in person.
And then a knock on the door. It was Eran again, and my landlady. Apparently, they were friends, and she had offered to sell him the remaining contents of my apartment. Oddly, I had wondered all year if my landlady was bothered by the B’tselem posters and anti-occupation paraphernalia all over my room. Clearly not, if she was friends with Eran. I let them both back in, and we laughed over the smallness of our little world.
And then Yaffa returned my security deposit.
I have a feeling you’ll be back,” she said.
“Thank you for all of the home-cooked meals,” I said.
“You’re like a daughter to me,” she said.
And then we hugged and did the double kiss. And then she closed the door behind her. Another goodbye.
And then I was running to see a friend who had just returned from fighting in Gaza. It was late at night by this point, but I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. I wanted to see him, safe and sound.
I walked back up Betzalel (“my last trek up Betzalel,” I thought) and towards the Aroma on Hillel. I ordered a blended iced coffee with crumbled Oreos, a delicacy. It was Thursday night, and the streets were filled with drunken teenagers. I eyed the Palestinian workers in the coffee shop and said a silent prayer for them as I walked toward Zion Square.
And Zion Square, predictably, was packed. There were three women sitting alone on the steps below the Bank Ha-Poalim, and so I decided to join them as I waited for my friend. The woman a few steps beneath me looked familiar.
“Yes?” she looked up at me, a bit confused.
“It’s Leanne, from Ir Amim.”
“Oh, right, hi!”
She was out patrolling. Ever since the dangerous lynch mob on Jaffa Street, a bit over a month ago, Jewish left-wing activists in the city had set up a discreet patrol system downtown. They spent nights monitoring the city in shifts, keeping an eye out for violence against Palestinians in the streets. They were ready to dial the police, intervene with nonviolent methods, escort Palestinians through crowds…things have gotten very bad.
I had personally refused to participate, scarred by previous brushes with violence in the downtown area. Tamara updated me on the patrol, explaining her own methods and mentioning other activists involved.
“Oh, shoot! I didn’t say goodbye to Lyle! Please say goodbye to her for me?”
Suddenly, Tamara perked up. “I hear chanting.”
She rose and walked toward Ben Yehuda Street. I followed, approaching the source. It was a group of teenagers and young men chanting “Death to Arabs.”
“Fuck,” I said aloud. (This place has a way of making me curse much more than usual.)
“So what do you do about this?”
“No, this is fine. This is them amping themselves up to look for Arabs to attack. They can say whatever they want, I step in if they try to act on it.”
The ring-leader of the group, a teenager with a buzz cut, stood and began to change the slogan.
“Death to Leftists! Leftists to Sakhnin!”
(If you think about it, it was a dumb chant. Leftists are often told to “Go die in Gaza,” which makes sense. But Sakhnin is an Arab-Israeli city, just as safe as any other city in Israel. No one would go to die in Sakhnin.)
“You know, it’s my last night in Israel,” I said to Tamara.
“Oh God, and this is how you’re spending it? Go have fun,” she said.
Just then, my soldier friend called.
“Don’t come here,” I said. “I’ll come to you.”
I quickly hugged Tamara goodbye. As the teenagers continued to chant death to Arabs and death to leftists, and tourists continued to mill about oblivious to the genocidal incitement, I felt secure in Tamara and the Jerusalem-based civil patrol. I have faith in them. I have seen them risk their own personal safety to protect others. I know they will do good. I just wish I could be there by their side…
My friend was waiting for me with a shaved head and a slightly lost look in his eyes. As we began to walk, I pointed toward the Lehava booth. He had never heard of the Lehava.
“Oh, you know, they try to prevent Jewish women from dating Arab men. They always have a booth set up here.”
“What’s it to them?”
“I don’t know, protecting the girls of Israel?”
It was odd. The first time I had encountered the Lehava, I had gasped and snapped photos of their stickers. Other times, they had made me cry. Now, I was explaining them matter-of-fact, unemotional, almost unbothered.
“I guess I’ve seen them so often, I’m desensitized.”
“Well, I’m not desensitized, I’ve never seen them before!”
“Well, let’s go over and check them out.”
We took some flyers and walked off. He was clearly jarred.
Another goodbye. And then I knew it was time to say a final goodbye to Jerusalem. By now it was almost 1:00 in the morning. My inner instincts had always pulled me indoors at these hours, wary of the effects of alcohol and femaleness and dark corners. I was painfully aware of being alone. But I walked past the Municipality.
“We’re not done with you,” I thought, smiling back to the Ir Amim office.
Past the Jaffa Gate. Past the old French hospital. Past the entrance to the Armenian Quarter.
I sat down on a bench situated exactly on the Green Line, separating Jerusalem, East from West. Directly in front of me was a giant Lehava sticker, pasted high on an electric pole. A final challenge.
I don’t know how long I sat on that bench staring down the sticker. It was late, very late, and I had been physically and verbally harassed for pulling down such stickers before. And I was alone. Nothing could save me if I was attacked. But how could I leave this city without pulling down this last bit of paper hatred?
It became a compulsion. I stood up and walked toward the pole. The sticker was high above my head. I would have to climb the pole to pull it down. This would draw attention. Tears in my eyes, I returned to the bench. I was hyperventilating now. A young Palestinian boy walked past me on his way home. He was tall, tall enough to reach the sticker. I contemplated asking him to pull it down, but I knew I couldn’t put him at risk that way. Anyways, it was my hatred to remove, not his.
And then a moment came when the air was still. No cars, no people. I sprung forward, climbed the pole, and tried to pull down the sticker. I missed and fell back. Climbed the pole again, reached high, and pulled. Bingo. It was down.
I returned to the bench, heart pounding, and threw the ripped shreds into the garbage bin. The sprinklers came on. The grass and mud and stone bathed in the cool night air. And I knew I needed to cry, one last time, in this city that had so often made me cry.
“Stay strong, Jerusalem,” I prayed. My mind shifted to the young men chanting “Death to Arabs” down the road, eyes gazing toward the glittering neon lights of Palestinian shops outside the Damascus Gate.
“Stay strong, Jerusalem, you will survive this.” I thought of the powerful women I had interviewed in Shuafat and Beit Hanina. Maybe they were lying awake, pondering this city, like me.
“I have faith in you, Jerusalem, I know you can grow and love with or without me,” I whispered, thinking of the harassed women on the light rail, of Tamara, of Betty and Oshrat and Aviv and Einat and Yudith and Shalom and Ahmad and Neria and Dana and Micah and Omar and Anwar and Joseph and Daniel and all those who would fight for love and compassion in this place.
And then, just then, in my prayers and tears, I received a final Whatsapp.
“I really miss you. I had gotten used to seeing you almost every week. I wish you a good trip and much luck in the work that is surely waiting for you there…I will always be in touch with you. I will never forget you. I hope to see you again. I hope you enjoy the trip, and your life in your country. Please say hi to Sam. I am so happy that life has given me the precious opportunity meet you (and Sam). We will be in touch forever. I love you. Your friend who loves you always.”
And just like that, it was time to say goodbye to the only city I have ever loved like a human being.
Until next time.