To the Places that Scare Me: In Honor of Azriel

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
This one''s in honor of my dear departed friend, Azriel Cohen who passed away this Sukkot. He was a masterful artist and entrepreneur of the spirit, forever birthing new and powerful pieces of art and facilitating experiences that inevitably opened the minds and hearts of everyone involved. One of my favorites was his Travelling Jerusalem Cafe. An experiential artistic exploration of Jerusalem''s cafe cultures, in both East and West Jerusalem. The show recreated Jerusalem''s cafe, featuring fabulous mural-sized paintings that Azriel had created while sitting in cafes on both sides of Jerusalem''s great cultural divide. 
 
 
 
Azriel always urged us to break through our narrow cultural blinders and encounter the ''other'' (whether friend, enemy, or animal) with openness and curiosity. He said, The very things that you’re scared to explore are probably waiting for you with incredible horizons, like open seas in the time of the explorers centuries ago.”
 
Thus, I decided to take up his invitation and to make a pilgrimage to a place that scares me. In his honor. To leave behind my usual Anglo Jerusalem haunts to seat myself in a cafe in the Arab Quarter of the Old City....and to attempt to craft some art from that unsettling place.
Azriel, as you encounter the unknown horizons of the after-life, may you relish in the journey with joy and relief and gratitude for what was.
*
 
To the Places that Scare Me: 
 
Today is my pilgrimage day
to places that scare me.
 
I spill in all open and determined
through the “New Gate” of the Old City
- the gate of Sultan Abdul Hamid. 
 
 
Realizing that in the thousand times I have come
to my beloved Ir Atika 
never once
have I entered this gate
or paced these streets
where the signs speak Arabic and I,
I am speechless.
  
This time, I will spend my quarters in the Arab quarter.
I will stew in all that fruitful
discomfort of being
an Orthodox Jewess
in an otherwise Arab cafe.
 
I will sit here unsettled on this sweaty wicker
and drink in memories.
I will do my darndest to be bold & creative
amidst a street-full (and heart-full?)
of suspicion and dis-ease.
 
And I will wait for the poetry.
 
*
And as sure as smoke rises 
from the hukah and her nectar
I remember...
 
The wind-blown drive to a Rainbow Gathering
circa 2003.
How Azriel, with some girl friend or another
watched wistful out the window
whispering to the passing animals.
 
When all of the sudden
“Wows cows!” he
exclaimed
as we came upon a small speckled herd. 
And my heart jumped from hearing
the explosion of
simple poetry
through his spacious smile.
 
That poetry that somehow always dripped from his sleeves
like the patient muse that always seemed to
guide him
gift him
torture
level
lift
and birth
him.
 
How I will cherish the
matchbook of memories he left me
- good enough to light up the dullest of my days.
 
Urging me to greet the places that best scare me
to make a cafe of my discomforts
and to drink deep. 
  
*
I bless Azriel to greet the dark expanses
that stretch out before him
like an explorer merging with the sea.