If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem

Forget, then, the power of my right hand

Make my tongue cleave to my palate

If I fail to recall you.

–King David, Psalm 137

I had intended to write a completely different post tonight, but while I was cooking dinner I was overcome by longing for Jerusalem.  This usually brings on floods of tears and heart-rending grief, and tonight is no exception.

January 11th marked two years since I returned to the States to help my elderly parents. Before that, I had four glorious years in Jerusalem, the only place on earth that feels like home to me.  I will return, God willing, as soon as circumstances allow.  I hope to die and be buried there.

Jerusalem is a city of riotous variety of peoples and ways of life.  You can go to the Old City and bask in the awe of its ancient arches.

Portal into another world: Rehov Habad, Jerusalem, Ir ha'Atiqa

Portal into another world: Rehov Habad, Jerusalem, Ir ha’Atiqa


Or you can go to the Shuk, the open marketplace rioting with color and jumbles of cultures, Jew and Arab and Christian all jostling for the best fresh pita, halva, olives, fish, meat, vegetables, cookies, bourekas (the local filled puff pastries), pots and pans, headscarves, seasonal delicacies, etc., etc., etc.

Machane Yehuda Shuk 1

Machane Yehuda Shuk 1

During festivals things get even crazier.  The wonderfully colorful and deeply mystical festival of Purim has many traditions associated with it, one of which is dressing up.

Women's Purim Party at SY's

Women’s Purim Party at SY’s

That’s me on the left, at an all-women’s Purim party that happens every year at Sarah Yehudit Schneider’s place in the Old City.  She’s a Mekubelet, a deeply learned teacher of Kabbalah, and one of my principle teachers.  She’s highly respected among the Mekubalim, the male Kabbalists who take a lot of impressing to be impressed by a woman.  That’s one of the aggravating parts of Jerusalem is the deep rift between male and female.  There are reasons for it, but it still gets to me.

I miss my religious community there…there is nothing like it here in the States, and certainly not here in Grinder’s Switch (any Minnie Pearl fans out there?)

The Men's Side

The Men’s Side


The Women's Side

The Women’s Side

I miss walking down the street and seeing Armenian priests in their black robes and tall hats, the nuns in black habits and impossibly uncomfortable-looking headgear, Muslim women cloaked from head to toe walking arm in arm with their tee-shirted, cut-off-jeaned, mulleted husbands.  I miss my own community, the married women seeming to compete for the most elaborate hair coverings, and of course the weddings

Bride Praying

Bride Praying

This is my friend’s new daughter-in-law praying before her husband-to-be comes, escorted by his father and her father, to lift her veil and look into her eyes deeply.  Then he will lower her veil back into place and go away.  I honestly don’t know what the men do between that time and the next part of the wedding ritual, when the friends of the groom come and escort the bride and all the women, singing special songs, to the chuppah, or wedding canopy.  The groom and the fathers will already be there, and the bride and the mothers, who are holding candles as you can see in the picture above, circle the groom seven times clockwise, and the bride then stands on the groom’s right.DSC00042

I got this shot from behind the chuppah because there were so many people packed into the wedding hall that I had no hope of getting a shot from in front.  Orthodox Jews in Israel mostly get married in wedding halls and not synogogues.  The chuppah, or canopy, that you see here is made up of the prayer shawls of the two fathers and the new one that the bride gifts the groom as part of the ceremony.  It’s very beautiful.  After the ceremony there is a huge feast.  The bride’s family traditionally provides the food.  This bride is from Uzbekestan, and we had Uzbekistani food which is honestly the best food I have ever had.

After the food comes the dancing.  There is a partition between the men’s section and the women’s section, for modesty.  The dancing on the women’s side is just crazy.  They will set off fireworks indoors, explode confetti cannons, put the bride on a tablecloth and throw her into the air, and put the bride and the groom on chairs and hold them up above the partition so they can have a little air dance together.

Why nobody gets killed at Jewish weddings, I don’t know.  They do sometimes get killed at Arab weddings, because they have a tradition of shooting off guns and sometimes somebody gets killed by mistake.

Oh right, I wanted to say that the dancing on the men’s side is mostly boring except when they have acrobatics done by young men in suits.  I have watched these things and all I can say is that Jewish weddings encourage me to believe there is a God because everyone seems to walk out able-bodied.

But most of all I miss being part of my huge Jewish family, over six million in little tiny Israel, six million to replace the six million.


One of my rabbi’s sons, showing us his very long tongue.  The hole-y tights with the star belong to one of his sisters.


Leave a comment


  1. You bring tears to my eyes remembering when I studied at Ohr Samayach and when we lived in Bet Hakerem. Hopefully we will be back fro Pesach – our daughter leaves for a 5 month kibbutz ulpan in a couple of weeks near Haifa. Thank you so much for this beautiful post. I love the pix!

    • Ah, an Ohr Samayach-nik, hey? I hope you do get to go for Pesach. I wish I could go for Purim. That’s my Chag. But I will end up here, reading Megilla for myself again, and making Seder for my parents, because if I wasn’t here they wouldn’t have one.

      Which ulpan is your daughter going to? That’s so great that you’re sending her!

      PS I bet you’re the only one who knows what those “black boxes” are…..

  2. Cool pics!! I’ve never been to Jerusalem, but I would love to go one day! 🙂

    • Thank you! Everyone should go to Jerusalem at least once in their lives. It is the Pupil of the Eye of the Universe. That’s why all these factions are warring over her instead of going along minding their own business and worshipping (or not) each in their own way. Actually Jerusalem is mostly blissfully peaceful. You can absolutely feel the intense spiritual energy pulsing. It’s too much for some people, in fact. But everyone needs to go and experience that, once in their lives.

  3. I’ve longed to go to Jerusalem — to any place in Israel, actually — for so many years!! When Zola Levitt was alive, I’d watch his program every week. He took several groups of people on tours to Israel every year. There were different types of tours — going to more places for a longer tour both before Israel and after Israel — according to the time and money you had available. At that time I could have afforded it, and if I was going to go I was going for the big tour — Greece, Israel and then into Petra before coming back to the states, and I was well enough to do it. I wanted my mom and my sister to go with me, however, so it never came about for various reasons.

    Anyway, he and his crew would stay behind and film shows over there. He taught me so much that I never knew before!! If you’ve read my blog — I know you visited it once because you blessed me by giving me a literal translation of the 23rd Psalm and then telling me the general idea behind each part — you know I’m a follower of Jesus. Zola was Jewish by birth and kept some of the religious traditions, but I don’t think he was into religion/spiritual things at all. He was a musician. And a beautiful one, too!! He wound up playing with the band he was in at “Christian” churches, as well as other places/events, and eventually converted. He kept his weekly program aimed toward other Jews because he wanted them to believe as he did. However he also wanted to educate people like me — Gentiles!! 😀 I feel like I missed my chance to go to Jerusalem, to Israel not just because he died several years ago, but because my illness got out of control years before and I had to quit my job, etc. etc.

    I hope this is not a stupid remark — I hope you won’t roll your eyes at me, but if you do, you do. I just don’t want it to be offensive: These photos and your description remind me of “Fiddler On The Roof.” I can’t abide musicals anymore — they get on my nerves something fierce. However, before this illness got out of control I loved musicals and that was one of my favorite. I knew every song by heart and I’d cry every single time I watched it!! I knew people still got married under a chuppah, but I didn’t realize the men and women were still segregated.

    Thank you SO much for sharing this!!

    You have no way of knowing this, but I was so happy for you when you got to go back home for a while. I know the circumstances turned out to not be good, yet I can’t imagine how your heart must have broken to have to leave your home again!! I know you’re back for your father and I think that’s wonderful!! What a dear man he must be!! I took care of my mom during her last years on earth. I know the responsibility and, at many times, the burden. You have my deep respect and admiration, _____ (I want to use your name, but I wont’, so in your head just insert your name here.)

    — Kathy

    • Thanks so much for sharing these beautiful stories, Kathy. I really appreciate you. Take good care of yourself, and consider this: many people find healing in going on a pilgrimage. Without even leaving Jerusalem’s city limits (OK, a little bit for Mother Rachel) you can visit the burial places of more people in the Bible than I can even remember right now. Going to Rachel’s Tomb, which is in Bethlehem, is in itself a tremendously healing experience. Miracles happen there all the time.

      I usually don’t get into this kind of thing on this blog, because, well, because. But since you opened that gate, I have to step through it a little bit, because of my own experiences and the experiences of so, so many people that I personally know.

      For me, the tomb of the prophet Samuel is a very special place. His tomb is on the top of a hill just west of Jerusalem overlooking the city. I have spent hours there.

      I really hope you can find a way to go. There are tons of Christian group tours that are really very cheap, comparatively speaking. I know that might be way out of your reach, but it’s something to pray for….

      • I have never heard about any healing, so thank you for telling me. Wow!! What an amazing thing to contemplate and, yes, definitely to pray for!! Thank you so very much!!


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