Encountering Israel

Yael Roberts
September 8, 2014
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There are two empty seats next to me on the plane. This makes the plane ride to Israel comfortable, but the nagging discomfort is there too, knowing that fewer people are traveling at this time.

I toss and turn between comfort and discomfort, my stomach churning all eleven hours, a back and forth. The waves of nausea hit me as I picture the ocean beneath me, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean flowing into the Mediterranean.

The jolt of landing, and I find that I am choking with surprise and wonder. I am here, I am finally able to breathe. The tears of relief and fear seep into those of my downstairs neighbor, later that night, when she hobbles down the stairs in her baggy nightgown and into the miklat, the bomb shelter.

The last one there, she is gasping in fear, shaking, because she can’t hear the sirens, and somehow, she heard the faint knocking on her door, but where are the upstairs neighbors, her friends of fifty years? Are they safe?

This is my first encounter with a bomb shelter, and a few nights later, Haaretz tells me, there are sirens throughout Jerusalem. I open my door, and there is my downstairs neighbor. And no, we haven’t heard sirens, but please, please call me on the phone so I can hear, so I can know to stumble downstairs.

And this is my first encounter with existence in this country, my first time living here, and watching life explode, attending weddings and watching mothers weave with babies through the aisles of Rami Levi, traveling back from the Shuk and the plastic bags with heavy figs cutting into my hands. Hanging sheets on clothes pins out my second-floor window, biking on the outskirts of Meah She’arim where the men scream, “Tzniut!” Greeting the early morning sun, as each morning brings new air, air thick with hope and waiting. Losing myself in the alleys of Nahlaot, watching the sun set in reds against the pink Baka flowers.

The colors here are vivid, but this is also my first encounter with not seeing, knowing there is something beyond what I experience daily. Everything feels temporary, as if soon, it may all collapse. Am I dreaming? Are these structures real? Will these trees grow taller, and will these paths continue to wear with the footsteps of zekanim, will the children continue to shriek until late at night, riding on the bike paths at midnight, helmetless?

Because guns brush into me on the HaRakevet HaKala, the light rail, and again when I bike through packs of soldiers; there are cars on the side of the street torched and burned. But in this place of temporary dwelling, in Jerusalem, the dying is far away.

But it is close, as in the middle of the night when I hear what is maybe a cat purring, a motorcycle passing, a car alarm, or a siren encroaching.

In this place of half-dreaming, half-sleeping, soon-waking, I hear the words of Tanach come to life in people’s mouths and minds, I read them on the streets signs, and the sounds and sights blur together, as I wait for my morning alarm to ring.

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Yael Roberts Yael Roberts graduated Stern College for Women in 2014, with a major in English Literature and a minor in Studio Art. This summer, she is participating in Tent: Museums, and working as a Arts Education Intern at BIMA at Brandeis. She is a 2014-2015 year program student at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. A printmaker and mixed media artist, she had her first solo show, "Correspondences," in January 2014 at Blackburn 20/20 in Manhattan. She was a Kressel Research Scholar for 2012-2013 and a 2013 artist-in-residence at the Contemporary Artists Center in Troy, NY.

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