Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Israel - Yarushaleim the Golden

When I was preparing our Israeli meal I suddenly felt homesick. I said to Kevin and Julia, who were in the kitchen, “We should visit Israel someday. It would be so much fun. There’s so much to do and I could show you where I used to live. Did you know I could see the beach from my house?”

Julia laughed. “Like Sarah Palin could see Russia from her house.” She said it in a falsetto voice that made me giggle.

Kevin was reading the newspaper and I could see him stiffen. “Israel is dangerous,” he said.

“Why is it dangerous?” Julia asked.

I shrugged. “Well, I guess it’s because there are certain people who want to blow it up and wipe it off the face of the earth. But that shouldn’t stop us from going.”

Kevin gave me a funny look and Julia shook her head and said, “I don’t want to go if it’s dangerous.”

I started to feel impatient. I wasn’t suggesting that we spend a couple of weeks in Baghdad, for god’s sakes. I wanted to go back to my childhood home where I spent some of the best years of my life, the best fours years of my childhood anyway.

Paul Theroux warned against going back to the places you used to travel. “The decision to return to any early scene in your life is dangerous but irresistible,” he writes, “not as a search for lost time but for the grotesquerie of what happened since. In most cases it is like meeting an old lover years later and hardly recognizing the object of desire in this pinched and bruised old fruit.”

For me, the risk in going back to Israel is not getting blown up, but seeing it with different eyes, more critical and mature eyes. I may wonder why I thought of it as the object of my desire. On the other hand, it could be like seeing a long lost friend. If I go back, I will either be swept up with emotion or disappointment. I cannot imagine any other outcome.

We moved to Israel in September of 1976. My mother wrote back home how modern Israel fascinated us. She described the handsome sun-tanned soldiers wearing short shorts with machine guns slung over their shoulders, mingling in the crowds, and ads enticing tourists to come and have fun on the sea of Galilee, and the roadside sign on Haifa highway near our house saying, “Jerusalem, 74 kilometers.”

Jerusalem was magical. It was an hour drive from Tel Aviv. The last miles before we reached the city we would ascend up into the mountains – winding higher and higher and then we were there – Jerusalem stretched out before us. We stayed at the King David hotel, drove to the Mount of Olives for the fabulous, not-quite-real-seeming, panoramic view of Jerusalem, we visited the Wailing Wall where we put on skullcaps and shoved prayers in the wall. We visited The Dome of the Rock, the Garden of Gethesamane with its huge and twisted old olive trees, and roamed the markets in the old city and Bethlehem.

The first time we saw Bethlehem we all caught our breath and our guide said, “Look at that. It looks like 2000 years ago.”

Then we drove up the street and there was the “Holy Manger Souvenir shop.”

My mother thought the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem was tacky and commercialized. You would walk in and a guide would say, “Here’s where Mary bore Jesus and here is where she laid him afterwards.” Now, how could they possibly know that?

Israel was very special to all of us. My mother wrote home about how much we loved living there.

But Jerusalem held a special place in our hearts. She wrote in one of her letters, “There’s an Israeli song about Jerusalem that we want to learn – Yarushaleim the Golden. I don’t know the title but those words are in it. That’s the Hebrew pronunciation of Jerusalem. When you’re on the Mount of Olives in the late afternoon with the sun shining on the old city laid out in a panorama below you, you see why it’s called Jerusalem the Golden.”

Near our house in Israel there was a market square and almost every day after school I would run to the market deli and get a hummus and pita sandwich with red cabbage. When it came time to make our meal for Israel I knew just the thing I wanted to prepare: hummus and pita sandwiches with red cabbage and a side of tabbouleh.

I have had hummus and pita sandwiches since, of course, but not with the red cabbage. It didn’t taste quite the same (it never does), but it was good and I was surprised how much my children loved it.

Now, I need to find a way to take my family to Israel – perhaps even to that same deli in that market square in Tel Aviv – not in my mind or through my stories, but in person. I’m willing to risk being blown away all over again.


1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup fine bulgur
Leaves of one large bunch of Italian parsley
Leaves of one bunch spearmint (mint)
1/2 cup red onion
2 cups cherry tomatoes
juice of one large lemon
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, pour the boiling water over the bulgur. Let stand for 30 minutes, uncovered, until the bulgur has absorbed all the liquid and is softened.

Chop the parsley, mint and onion. Add to the bulgur and toss to combine.

Have the tomatoes, place in a colander, and press lightly to drain off some of their liquid and eliminate some seeds, then add to the bulgur.

Pour the lemon juice and olive oil over the bulgur and vegetables and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours before serving.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this beautiful evocation of Israel and coming upon Jerusalem for the first time. I can't wait to get back there, myself. In the meantime I'll try your tabbouleh.