The Brownsteins in the Land of Israel
Yerushalayim: Adult Development
Just one letter this time, from my lifelong friend Billy Baynu:
read your story about Lag B'Omer last night, right after I received it.
It was really
great how you made fun of everything. You
tell 'em Richie. I loved how you
talked about how cool it is to blow up things with fireworks.
Those were the days, huh? I
agree, that's what we need, more fireworks!
Remember when we stuck six firecrackers in that anthill behind the
Widmans' barn? That was so cool. But then a funny thing happened when I was talking to Mom
about your chronicle. She she said
that it wasn't about fireworks at all. She
said that the story was about how girls think they grow up so fast in Israel,
only to find what it really means to be grown up once they are in the army, at
which point they realize that they weren't grown up at all. She said that the little girls’ fire-poker and the cell
phones were all intended to create a parallel image running through each of the
girls. Mom even said that the
reason you had such a large picture of your daughter was to emphasize that the
story was about girls. Then Mother
suggested I reread your story because I obviously didn't get it at all and that
she was embarrassed for me. I told
her that I read just fine and that Rich's chronicles are not tricky, but very
simple, about his day-to-day life in Israel.
I told her, “I've known Rich for 40 years and he is not a serious dude.
He just likes to write subtle humor.”
I was a little bit confused when she then suggested that the $100,001 she
had spent on my college education seemed to have been wasted.
I just shrugged and went back to my video game.
Please tell Mama that my Barnard education was worth every penny!
Hey, Billy: listen to your mom.
Yerushalayim: Adult Development
try not to regret silly mistakes. We
all make them, perhaps I more than most. But
yesterday I made a mistake that, as the next 24 hours wore on, I regretted more
Last night marked the beginning of the one-day celebration of the reunification of the holy, indivisible City of Jerusalem: Yom Yerushalayim, "Jerusalem Day". In 1967, what has been, and can only be described as a miracle took place during the Six-Day War when we retook the Old City of Jerusalem, which contains the Western Wall and the site of the future Third Temple (that we hope will be built speedily and in our days).
In 1967, when Egypt's ruler Nasser amassed his troops to finally destroy the seemingly fragile State of Israel, our air force obliterated, in the space of 150 minutes, virtually the entire Egyptian air force, 300 Egyptian planes, in the air and on the ground. True to form, Nasser told the world, and particularly King Hussein of Jordan, that Egypt, rather, was slaughtering the enemy. Until that point, since 1948, the Old City and all the West Bank had been in King Hussein's little hands. Desperate and delusional, Nasser urged all the Arab nations to partake in glorious slaughter.
the early days of the war, Jordan stayed out of the fighting.
Alas, buckling to pan-Arab pressure, and despite vehement private,
personal pleas from Israel’s leaders, Hussein decided to join in what he
expected would be the final Final Solution.
The result -- after bloody
hand-to-hand combat -- was our victory and the reunification of our beloved
usual, I went to synagogue last night. Yom
Yerushalayim commenced at sundown. A
special set of prayers and tunes were said and sung, that included one
particular psalm sung to the timeless tune of "Yerushalayim
Shel Zahav" – “Jerusalem of Gold"-- and another psalm sung to
the tune of the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah.”
After all the special additions had been chanted, the shofar was sounded,
something normally reserved only for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
As we were about to leave, I was urged to listen while the rabbi gave a
moving impromptu, five-minute sermon to a handful of us who remained.
I was gratified to have been able to understand most of his Hebrew. Unfortunately, I should have been more attuned to his
message: that Yom Yerushalayim is one of the few holidays not celebrated with
specific actions such as lighting a menorah, costuming oneself, eating matzo,
planting trees, fasting, learning all night, or eating in a temporary dwelling.
The rabbi said that Yom Yerushalayim is a personal and individual holiday during
which we must take it upon ourselves to understand and celebrate the meaning of
the gift of Jerusalem.
that normally I would have returned from the evening service a half hour
earlier, when I finally arrived home my wife Sara was worried.
After I retold the events at synagogue, she suggested -- not for the
first time -- that we do something special to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, like
go to the park with the kids after school the next day or go to the Western
Wall. I wasn't terribly responsive
or receptive. At that time, I had
only one thing on my mind: completing and e-mailing my last chronicle, Lag
B'Omer: Child Development.
So I stayed up very late last night dealing with my Israeli Internet
provider, which had changed some of its settings and thus made it difficult for
me to e-mail to you.
morning Sara called during her Ulpan break to see if I wanted to have lunch with
her. Still oblivious, I politely
commented that I was busy tying some loose ends.
A few minutes later, it occurred to me that I had been hasty in rejecting
her invitation. So I walked to the
neighborhood of her Ulpan, found the car where she had parked it on one of the
many little side streets, and then surprised her by appearing in front of her
Ulpan when she emerged. She was
thrilled. At lunch, back in our
neighborhood, although it was Yom Yerushalayim, nothing seemed terribly
the afternoon, once the kids were home from school, Sara tried valiantly to do
something, anything, to commemorate Yom Yerushalayim.
From my downstairs office I could hear her speaking with the kids about
Jerusalem and singing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.”
I was feeling even more lacking. So,
once the family was done with their rendition, I feebly tried to rectify my
continuing mistake by playing, at high volume, several versions of the same
song. It only made me feel worse -- which was better than how Sara felt
about my apparent apathy.
I left the house particularly early for my twice-a-week evening Ulpan (because
the teacher had requested an early start).
As I drove away, I noticed that the main checkpoint that generally guards
the entrance to the neighborhood was unmanned.
I found it odd at this time of high alert.
As I got closer to the Old City, traffic got heavy near the King David
Hotel. When I got down to the main
intersection close to the Old City, I was stupidly surprised by hordes of
conscientious patriots who were either carrying Israeli flags or wearing them
with pride as capes. Although it
was a beautiful sight, I was also fairly annoyed because I needed to continue
straight up the street to get to Ulpan. Clearly,
the metal barrier, 10 cops/soldiers, and hundreds of other people turned that
route into an unattainable dream. Nonetheless,
in a fashion that those of you who know me have come to expect, I decided to try
to charm my way through the roadblock.
Carefully rolling up to one of the cops, I said in slow, deliberate (probably bad) Hebrew that I needed to go to "Shefti Yisrael", the name of my Ulpan's street. The cop, unsmiling, told me that my plan was impossible and that I should park and walk (a half mile). Knowing that parking in Jerusalem even on a good day, without a quarter of a million other Israelis parked here, is a good trick, I thought her suggestion lacked any creativity whatsoever and that it would not allow me to achieve my goal. Undaunted, smiling nicely, I started to explain that I had to go to Ulpan and that it would be very difficult for me to do as she directed. Yet, with the abruptness that many have inappropriately associated with Israelis, she barked at me to stop blocking the road and to move on. Stunned, I replied, somewhat more calmly then she, that if I could understand everything she had just said to me, I wouldn't need Ulpan. Amazingly unamused, she barked again. I complied, almost certainly more dejected for not having prevailed upon her than for my pending tardiness.
up the street, two more cops were manning a roadblock to a side street that,
passing though, would have helped a lot. Defeated,
surrendering my dream of sweet-talking my new countrymen, I opted to roll
down the window and simply ask in Hebrew if they had any suggestions as to how I
could reach my destination. Slightly
more playful than the first cop (which would also aptly describe a rock), they
said it would be very hard to get there. I
joked with them that if they didn’t believe that I needed to go to Ulpan, they
could phone my teacher. One of them
answered, "Okay..." Not having the phone number on me, I hesitated. But then he continued, "Okay, we'll open the street for
"But just don't tell anyone."
Man, was I thrilled! So he
moved the barrier, telling me to be careful as I was backing up to turn onto the
street. Then he wished me a happy Yom Yerushalayim.
Back at you, brother.
by a large park, I passed thousands of people doing the right thing:
celebrating. I had to honk several
dozen more times than usual because the street was a sea of happy Zionists. The people gazed at me -- a civilian in a minivan -- as if I
were from Mars or Ramallah. I just
smiled and beeped.
The next intersection featured hundreds of boys and men in a huge circle singing the songs that I should have been singing. I honked gingerly, genuinely not wanting to disrupt the beautiful image that they had created. Nonetheless, I had to pass directly through the circle in order to continue. They didn't seem to notice. I honked again, this time slightly more insistently. One of the teenagers looked back over his shoulder at me and made a motion suggesting that he was not going to move until the building of the Third Temple. Unfortunately, I had to honk again. Thankfully, one of the slightly older, more practical circle dwellers speculated that the Temple would not be rebuilt within the next 10 seconds, and that perhaps they should make room for me to pass. Driving through the circle, in holy surround-sound, what I heard and felt was indescribable.
wound around and up another side street that eventually intersects with Jaffa
Road, the main street of downtown Jerusalem.
I thought for a microsecond about trying to traverse that thoroughfare,
too, but without Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I was going nowhere. So I
concluded that I should be grateful for having made it that close to Ulpan; this
was a pretty good place to park, all
bag in hand, I conspicuously walked to the sidewalk entrance.
Some of the police who were not manning the roadblock in my neighborhood
were manning entrances like this one up and down the street.
(One mystery solved.) As has
become a daily occurrence, before approaching the cop I opened and readied my
bag for inspection and announced in Hebrew that I don't have a gun.
the middle of the packed, raucous Jaffa Road my contrition for having not done
anything significant to celebrate the miracle of Jerusalem was burgeoning.
Behind me, on the back of a
flatbed, a Hasidic band, complete with horns and big amps, was whipping the
crowd into a frenzy with the song "Yerushalayim".
I watched for moment, feeling helplessly guilty... and then kept walking,
absolutely inadequate as a husband and father for not having brought my family
to this joyful scene. The music was
echoing among the modest buildings that constitute downtown Jerusalem. I
saw black kids waving their flags with white kids, Sephardim with Ashkenazim,
Hasidim with secular, old with young.
All were dancing, all had flags, and all had the good sense to show their
appreciation for the gift that the Almighty had given us in 1967.
a great deal of luck, I reluctantly arrived at Ulpan at the appointed time, just
as the students who live within walking distance were arriving.
The teacher, however, arrived with all the other drivers about half an
hour late. They all wanted to know
my secret for being on time.
the first part of class, I could still hear "Yerushalayim" being
emphatically sung in the distance, and I could still see children with flags
whooping it up in the adjoining park. It's
safe to say that I learned very little Hebrew tonight.
back to the car an hour after sunset, Yom Yerushalayim was finished.
Jaffa Road was serene and satisfied, empty and clean. The only remaining
signs of the event I so foolishly deferred were downed ropes along the route,
and, more nostalgically, similar rows of light strings that decorate Beverly
Hills' Wilshire Boulevard in the winter, except without the reindeer, etc.
But, besides that, Yom Yerushalayim was over.
me, Jerusalem is the only place in Israel to live.
To me, if you move to Israel for religious reasons, Jerusalem is the
logical destination. To me.
Yet, as with my all-too-few visits to the Western Wall, having lived here
for almost a year now, I have begun to treat Jerusalem as just another city.
Perhaps I can blame ignorance of the celebrations for my mistake, but,
more to the point, it might also be that I still can’t quite believe that I am
so blessed as to live here in Jerusalem and that "those people"
dancing and waving flags and singing in a circle are really the ones who
only consolations are that maybe, in the end and despite myself, I was able to
internalize the meaning of the gift of Jerusalem in some small way, and that,
with the grace of the Almighty, perhaps I can make it up to her somehow next
year in Jerusalem.
Anyway, thanks for reading between the lines this far.
appreciate and look forward to your comments and greetings.
As you know, we are in the middle of a membership drive, so please get
me the e-mail addresses of people whom you want to add.
(Let them know ahead of time, so I don't get in trouble with the spam
Please stay tuned for Chapter 20: “The Dentist.”
All the best,
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