“Just a remnant of the Second Temple. The Kotel, they call it,” he said. “Most people know it as the Wailing or Western Wall. It’s the only area left to the Jews where they can go to pray, especially on Shabbat and other holy days.”
“And now?” she asked.
“After years of being denied access to the Temple Mount, some sects of Orthodox Jews are forcing the issue by arriving in groups to visit the area they believe the Holy of Holies is located,” he said. “And the Muslims are angry.”
When the wind had died down the next morning in Jerusalem, they set off to explore their neighbourhood outside the walls of the Old City. It was about as close to the Old City as Theresa could bear, for the moment that is.
“We’re in Nach’laot,” David said. “It’s home to Orthodox American and British Jews.”
“Why would they want to leave the relative safety of their home countries?” she asked.
“Good question,” he said looking at her. “They are committed to supporting Israel and reclaiming their Jewish roots.”
“Do you feel the same way?” She searched his eyes. She worried he might want to live in Israel permanently.
“Aliyah,” he whispered. “The call to return home is strong. Sometimes I feel the same way. Yes.”
She wondered what it would be like to live in Jerusalem as she watched women bustling by wearing wigs and long skirts pushing strollers, many with triplets. Men with curly pe’ot spilling down from under black fedoras and tzitzit prayer fringes dangling from their waist made their way to services at their small neighbourhood shuls.
At the old Mahane Yehuda market, hawkers, vendors and beggars clamoured for their attention. She sampled sweet halvah made from sesame paste, honey and a variety of fillings such as pistachios or cashews. She gawked at softball-sized artichokes and fresh pomegranates cracked open to reveal their ruby seeds. She drank chalky goat’s milk mixed with secret Yemeni health elixirs.
“Don’t even think about passing us by without trying our dates,” said one vendor in perfect English, holding out a handful. Another admonished: “What? You don’t have time to stop to taste our cheeses?”
“Why are the vendors so in your face?” she asked her husband.
David laughed. “I’m guessing that’s how this market has been running for hundreds of years. He opened the guidebook and read a passage about the character and personality of the citizenry. “Native-born Israelis are known as sabras – the Hebrew word for cactus – prickly on the outside, but soft on the inside.”
“When do we get to see the soft part?” she asked, smirking.
“Think about it,” her husband added. “They’ve lived with chronic stress after years and years of war, dozens of bus bombings, and two intifadas. Not to mention the ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza.”
David pointed at the Old City looming in the distance.
“Are you ready to go?”
“I guess so,” Theresa said. “But you’ve got to help me, OK?”