After coronavirus pandemic, out and about in Jerusalem

My first time out, with only two other residents and Malka, the social worker, was on a bright sunny day.

Gan Sacher, Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gan Sacher, Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Two-and-a-half months, 70 days at least, of lockdown in my diur mugan (assisted living home). What does one do? Look out your large window...
From mine, I can see Jerusalem growing with the new cultural center near the Beit Ha-Am, as well as the Dugma School locked and empty. On the other side of our building, Gan Sacher with the Knesset in the background is fully visible.
I have been yearning to fly like my friends, the birds and the Jerusalem parrots who visit me – take a breath high in the sky and then return to my home satiated for the moment. Then it happened. In the first week of May, the director of Bayit Belev, my home, decided there could be half-hour walks of up to six people and a staff member in Sacher Park.
My first time out, with only two other residents and Malka, the social worker, was on a bright sunny day. Down below, adjacent to our building is a tunnel under Ben-Zvi Boulevard leading you to the park. Emerging into the light was a visual and spiritual experience, so I quietly recited the Sheheyanu blessing.
When I stepped on the grass in the park for the first time, it felt like a carpet woven with symbolic green threads, grown by the gardeners and their pipes and also by a very heavy natural rainfall. The Kinneret is full, too.
I noticed that two newly laid clay trails cover the dirt ones that used to exist. One set is for runners, walkers, carriages, wheelchairs and the elderly with walkers. One is for bikers to whiz along as fast as they can – hardly taking a look around them, except to avoid someone on their trail.
As the others walked, I sat down to try to let the enormity of this scene sink in: the natural vistas surrounding the park, the Knesset barely visible, the new buildings rising around Binyanei Hauma and the tall buildings on Jaffa Road in the process of being built. I knew that my favorite spot, Mahaneh Yehudah, was open somewhere in the distance.
I WISHED my wife Rita could have been there with me. In the summer of 1963, we came here to spend a year of study at the penimia (boarding school) of the Jewish Theological Seminary in the Neve Granot neighborhood, now Neve Schecter. We arrived late one June night, met the Herlings who were in charge, got our keys, found our room and collapsed in complete exhaustion (flights were longer then).
Rita kept a diary that year with intermittent entries. The next morning, she wrote, ”We made it to Jerusalem, watching the twinkling lights of the city from afar as we traveled in a cab. The Herlings (director and his wife) met us, gave us our keys and directed us to the room that would be ours for next year. We left our suitcases closed; we turned off the lights. All of a sudden, bombs were being dropped; we heard them exploding. We made it to Jerusalem only to be killed our first night in a war. David Herling calmed us down: “The Israel Museum is being built behind you; the workers begin their labors at 3 a.m. when it is still cool.”
Rita and I spent the first few months walking around the city. As we left our building, we arrived at Rupin Street. From there, we saw the new Knesset building rising. Below the site was an immense green expanse. I assumed it was called Sacher Park. Its grass continued to slope up to what is today the Wolfson Buildings. Then the grass continued up the hill where a small walking path existed – which is Ramban Street today.
The meaning of Jerusalem for Rita was expressed in an essay she wrote. When serving as a rabbi in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the 3,000th anniversary of Jerusalem was celebrated around the world. To mark this moment in time, I asked certain members of the congregation and Rita to write a personal essay about the meaning of the city to them. Boasting about my wife, I have to say that she wrote a poignant essay. Let me quote from her work so you can see into the past and still-budding present. The image I like best is the yearning for peace and the city of Jerusalem handsomely woven within it her text:
“My aliyah to Israel and Jerusalem in the summer of 1977 virtually coincided with the onset of the first peace process. I was in Jerusalem on that Saturday evening to greet and welcome the late president Anwar Sadat of Egypt when he and his entourage entered the city for the first time in November.”
She captures the spirit of that monumental event.
“Jerusalem literally means ‘Ir Hashalom,’ the ‘City of Peace.’ My fervent hope and prayer is that strife will cease – there will be peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.”
As you begin to venture out to view Jerusalem once again in all its beauty, don’t forget. This privilege was lost to many of us for several coronavirus months. Make your own commitment. State dramatically, “I will not miss what was denied me. Jerusalem will flower in my consciousness.
"Thank you, God, for blessing me as I experience my city once again.”