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First aliyah—June 3- June 13, 2004

Ben Gurion/ The Kotel/ Shofar/ Transformation/ Stray Cats and Cigarettes/ Reva L’Sheva/ The Negev/ The Galilee

Ben Gurion
“We will know we have become a normal country when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew.”- David Ben Gurion

This woman clanged a changebox,
An old wrinkly woman in a black shroud,
Molded into an enclave in the Jewish Quarter .
She clanged her changebox and spoke in Hebrew,
I don’t remember the Hebrew.
Her meaning transcended the language barrier,
Clanging the changebox, wailing archaically,
But I was pulled away,
Continuing down the stone steps—
The Kotel right below me,
The woman clanging, wailing in Hebrew above.
I was pulled away,
But I remembered Ben Gurion.

The Kotel

The Kotel loomed before me, this dream
I latched onto since Sunday School.
The women pushed into me,
The ones behind me surging like a wave,
In front they were davening ,
Bodies jerking, heads buried in siddurim ,
For one moment, everything clicked,
My breath hitched and water seeped from my eyes.
But the sun was bearing down,
And the time was running short—always running on Birthright .
The women in front of me davening—
All I had was a note to G-d, my pulsing anxiety—
The women behind me pushing—
So I swallowed my fear and dashed to an open sliver,
Splayed my fingers against the rock,
The rock laid down by Solomon, the rock in my ancestors’ dreams,
But all I could do was desperately shove my note
Into an overflown crack,
And whisper “Oh G-d, oh please, oh G-d preserve me,”
Then back away,
Spitting out the pushing women,
My heart gasping, my mind
Feeling unfulfilled.


It took awhile for me to feel comfortable
In the Jewish Quarter of the Old City,
Knowing that Doron would leave us
Defenseless American travelers,
I sat awhile and watched Israelis pass,
My strength returned with
Yeshiva boys with kipot and earlocks ,
Schoolgirls with dark frizzy hair—sharp Jewish features,
Chassids scuttling by with their coats and tophats,
Soldiers in their fatigues,
The Jews—my people—settled over me.

And then came the punctured sound,
The ram’s horn blared,
This primitive wailing, evoking hidden memories,
Next to me, someone explained,
“It’s Israel; they can always blow the shofar here.”
And suddenly I was smiling
In archaic Jerusalem, with Jews walking by,
Celebrating the only Jewish homeland.
I didn’t know then
That Diaspora Jews blow the shofar anytime too,
And now I’m bereft,
With no hidden comfort in Eretz Yisrael.


I saw the Kotel from a distance,
Appropriately roped off by biblical olives,
I wanted to run through those trees,
And embrace Judaism’s most holy site,
My hidden dream.

Walking around the park, overlooking the Kotel,
We passed Arab-Israeli women bundled up in black scarves
Their young sons in faded shirts and dusty trousers.
The little boys started shouting boldly,
“Hello, hello!”
I huddled into myself,
Red-faced at my American looks
Where all I wanted was to be a Jew
Who had finally found her way home.
But I also wanted—
To touch them.

Stray Cats and Cigarettes

The first stray I saw was curled
In a stone flower box in the Old City,
Others blurred in my memory
Until the last—
A tabby in the park in Tel Aviv.
I gasped at their smallness,
Sinew stretching across rock structures,
Hardened for battle and
Fighting the pungent air.
I gaped at the Israelis,
Toned, buffed, tanned by the army,
Lithe bodies poisoned only by cigarettes,
Yes the ashtrays
Were everywhere
And the vending machines
Held more cigarette brands than candies.

Israelis blackened their lungs into a stupor
But the cats flexed their claws and endured.

Reva L’Sheva

I don’t remember their music,
I remember the gossip—“the rave of the Israeli Chassids!”
I remember their instruments—drums and electric guitars,
I remember the flashes of people dancing.

But mostly I remember the balcony.
Walking outside on my second night in Jerusalem,
I wove through the throngs of peers—all oblivious to—
The stone walls of the Old City.
They bathed in fluorescent light from underneath,
Like a blinking shield of gold,
Making it seem more removed from us
Than usual.

The Negev

Was like

Wasteland after bustling
Tourist spots.
Slowly eating up a
Beaten up truck while
The cities were pounded
Down by human hands.
It was a warning, staring
At us from behind our
Glass bus windows, that
No life could survive here.

But we did. Stumbling over
Rocks while the others rode
Camels. I realized desert was
Not as soft as fiction
Made it out to be, nor as
Hot while the sun surrendered
Itself to the dusk.

And Doron suggested that
We meditate on different
Sand dunes, to seek solitude
Like our ancestors. But I
Had just lost my hat, and could
Not force my brain to pay
Heed to the collective past.
So I searched while others found G-d.


Staring across the thrashing trees
Alone in a sea of color.
As the wind buffeted our solid forms
And my Shabbat clothes whispered
Of the day of rest.

Atop the lush grass of Kfar Giladi ,
Hebrew rolling off my mind
Like the hills I held in my gaze.
Did the land cease to be
Israeli or Palestinian,
Jewish or Arab.

Did I finally find peace in Israel.

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