I dropped off some clothes at the dry cleaners in Davidka Square, and then crossed the street and started walking towards the shuk. As I walked, I looked at the people around me: an older couple speaking French, an Ethiopian mother, swathed in white, her face decorated by traditional facial tattoos, holding her child in her arms as she waited for the bus. A young couple, very trendy and lean, speaking an animated Russian. Israeli soldiers. A very, very elderly man in a colorful embroidered Bukharin skullcap. A young Muslim woman, swathed in a head covering and long dress in a lively blue, standing on line waiting to buy a falafel.
All this I saw within a block or two at the most. A tiny street, in the center of a tiny city in the Middle East, where conformity, intolerance and religious oppression are the norm. And yet, we Jews, through all our heartache, all our difficulties, all our inner strife, have managed to produce this little world full of contrasts, a lively pastiche of so many cultures and religions. We take the buses together, buy fast food together, work and play and pray together. And we do it in so many languages, dressed so differently.
And all of a sudden, I began to understand how I had made the transition from New Yorker to Middle Easterner with such relative ease: Jerusalem has the same dynamism, the same lively interflow of people from all over the world, the same tolerance, the same creativity and give and take as the greatest city, in the greatest country in the world.
It would be, under any circumstances, a remarkable achievement. Given the fact that it is a city that has been terrorized by constant bomb threats; a city whose citizens have been randomly targeted and murdered in their buses, their pizza parlors, and in their shopping areas; a city that has very little time off from standing guard to protect itself and its citizens from homicidal maniacs, it is a miracle.
When the siren sounded this evening in our city, ushering in the day of mourning for Israel’s fallen soldiers, I thought of who had paid the price for our liberty, and whose lives had stood at the ready to give us this beautiful city and country we are privileged to live in. I thought of my friends Sara and Michael Newman whose son Eitan lost his life two years ago as his tank blew up. I thought of the evening in his memory they had invited me to attend, and how the place overflowed with young people, who kept coming and coming. How the entire night had been spent singing songs, nothing sad. So many young people, Eitan’s friends, young families, who have not, will not, forget him; who will go on, singing, building, defending, creating.
There has never been, in the history of the Jewish people, a more courageous and admirable generation of young people.
There has never been, in the history of the Jewish people, a more amazing variety of Jewish life in the land that God gave us. The two of these things combined make me glad to be alive; glad to be a Jew; glad to be privileged to live in the land of the Jews, the land of Israel.
May God keep the souls of our soldiers who have fallen beneath His wings in Eden, until He returns them to their bodies at the end of time.