These Ancient Stones

“Hide your Jewish star necklace underneath your shirt,” my mother said to me, trying not to let me know how afraid she was. We spent the entire day in the old city of Jerusalem for the first time, and at five years old, I was already captivated. Only one moment ago, we were buying ice cream cones from a truck underneath the blazing sun, and the next moment, things instantly changed. We found ourselves walking through a dark street surrounded by people who looked different from us and stared with wonder into our eyes. I started to feel my mother’s sweaty palm tremble in-between my fingers, but I pretended not to notice. “Why do I need to hide my brand new necklace? Where are we?” I whined, but my mother nudged me to be quiet. We must have looked terrified because moments later, a man who was sitting down, leaned into my father and began speaking in Hebrew to him. “Don’t worry, be quiet and keep walking straight, then make a right.” We pressed on in silence - I couldn’t help but look at each person we passed by, wondering what was so bad about them and why they kept staring.
My mother finally let go of my hand, and we could breathe again. I found out that we took a wrong turn and ended up in an Arabic area, aside from the Arab market in Jerusalem. Fear. Nobody hurt us, nobody touched us and we didn’t touch them - but we felt afraid and were met with silent stares. Were they stares filled with curiosity? Maybe hatred, or indifference or acceptance...
Since that moment, I’ve grown and walked through the streets of Jerusalem alone as a young teenager, and then as a young woman. Oh, how I love that city. Each time I visit, I feel something different.
I clung to the Kotel (Western Wall) the year my grandpa died as I pressed my forehead against its stones that were filled with folded letters. I could feel him next to me, as if he’d never left this world, or, as if I’d entered into his new world for the first time. A few years later I returned to the wall, this time with a man I was in love with. I remember watching him through the cracks of the stones that separated men from women, and next to me stood another woman, probably doing the same thing that I was. We both watched with full hearts, feeling love and peace mixed with awe. I returned to the wall years later, hugging it through my heartbreak, begging it for answers. With each memory, there were hundreds of people around me, searching for the same peace of mind and answers. All of us searching, all of us saying thank you.
I’ve been thinking about these memories a lot lately while hearing the news of each recent riot and terrorist attack in Jerusalem - the holy city. What has become of this city now? A city where people need to think twice before they stand at a light-rail station. A city where some fight for what they believe in through painful aggression. This is something that Jerusalem has seen before, but it doesn’t hurt any less.
I feel the city crying and I’m not even there. We are so afraid of each other. Perhaps this is a fear that not even the ancient stones and beautiful alleyways could heal us from - we are the ones who need to heal its streets covered in loss, together.
After all, we share these ancient stones.