Posted on September 13, 2011 by Derek Kwait
(First published on my blog with “The Jewish Chronicle” of Pittsburgh, Yinzer in Yerushalayim 4 September 2011.)
Thank God, everything arrived on time. From getting the Mega Bus in Pittsburgh ($1.50 ticket!) to the planes at JFK and Kiev, I had no problems. By far the best part of the trip though was getting to hang out with my sister in New York, not to mention how much she helped me navigate the MTA from Penn Station to JFK. So maybe it was just nerves that the whole trip I had an old Jewish song stuck in my head: “Kol haolam kulo gesher tzar meod, gesher tzar meod, gesher tzar meod, v’haikar, vhaikar, lo l’fakhad klal!” (“The world is a very narrow bridge, very narrow bridge, very narrow bridge, and the point is to have no fear at all!”).
The only snag occurred once I got to Jerusalem. While I have an apartment very near to the school, it is currently being renovated, so in the meantime I am staying at the Heritage House Hostel in the Old City. It is a bit of a shelp to the school from here, but it might be worth it to live in the heart of the Jewish Quarter for two weeks. So anyway, when the cab driver dropped me and my luggage off at the gate to the Old City at night, I realized what a great sense of humor he has because after I entered the gate I realized he dropped me off at the entrance to the Muslim Quarter! At night! While I was dragging all my heavy luggage! Haha! Welcome to the Holy Land, American!
v’haikar, v’haikar, lo l’fakhad klal
I was so exhausted and sweaty from two days of travel I just followed the ramps deeper into the Old City hoping to eventually find the Jewish Quarter or at the very least a Jew. At one point I reached a fork in the road, and for no real reason, turned right. When I saw a huge mosque around the corner, I wanted to just give up and go back to Pittsburgh. Then I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t sure so I did a double-take, but sure enough, it was: a guy in a knitted kippa with a woman in a long skirt standing just outside the mosque entrance. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if they could help me get to where I needed to go (of course he spoke English— English speakers are about as rare in the Old City as in Nebraska). They knew where my street was and kindly helped me with my stuff and showed me the way to the hostel. I thanked them profusely, brushed my teeth, and slept for about 11 straight hours as though I were in a coma.
The next day—Friday—after praying at the Kotel, exchanging cash, and buying breakfast, I walked from the Jewish Quarter to Pardes in Talpiot to make sure I am familiar with the route for when school starts Sunday (I could take a bus, but really don’t want to because a. I’m cheap and b. I’m a coward). I got walking directions from Google maps, but it soon became obvious I would need an actual map until I actually knew the streets I was supposed to turn on. So I stopped at the information center by the Jaffa Gate and asked for directions to Talpiot. When the guy started telling me bus routes I cut him off and told him I wanted to walk. He looked at me like I was crazy, but I insisted. It’s actually an easy route—I only have to go on 3 streets, all of them major. The walk takes about 40 minutes which, for me, is not a big deal. The only problem is the heat. The Jerusalem heat totally kicks my butt—a few steps out the door and I’m tired and thirsty. But I brought water and juice, so I managed. And while this walk was in the heat of the day, I will be going to and from school in the relatively cooler morning and evening, so I’m not too worried about it. But either way, I do plan on bringing water.
Friday night I went to the Kotel. I got there early enough to be the only Jew there with a colored shirt and normal haircut. I davened with an early minyan then people watched as the crowd came in. By the time it got dark, the entire plaza was filled with Jews of all kinds singing, dancing, yelling and praying. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. When I was about to leave, at least 100 soldiers entered the plaza. They made their way to the center, formed a circle, and began singing and jumping. I went over to watch and got pulled in to the circle with them just as they squatted down to begin a new song: “Kol haolam kulo gesher tzar meod, gesher tzar meod, gesher tzar meod…” they beat the ground as they sang, then we put our arms on each other’s shoulders and slowly stood:“V’haikar, V’HAIKAR, LO L’FAKHAD KLAL!” as we screamed and jumped, their guns hit my sides. That’s when I knew everything would be alright.
During dinner Friday night, I tipped a wine bottle reaching for more kugel, then caught it at the last possible second before it spilled. The host said, “You really are from Pittsburgh, Nice catch!” Stereotypes.
Hebrew word of the week: אייף (“eye’ayf”) – Tired