When my chassan and I got engaged, it was with the understanding that we would live in Yerushalayim where he was learning. I had lived in England all my life and had never been to Eretz Yisrael, so I didn’t really know what to expect. When my friend Hindy suggested that we travel there together for a short time, I agreed.
We made plans, packed our bags and were off. We would be staying with relatives in Kiryat Sefer for the first two nights, and moving over to Yerushalayim for the next week.
We arrived in Kiryat Sefer around four in the morning.
As the taxi sped away, we stood quietly, holding onto the handles of our suitcases. The air was still and musty; the darkness of the street was punctuated only a little by streetlamps. I listened to the car moving further and further away, and within seconds it was gone; eerie music sounded in its place. Hindy told me that it was just the muezzin calling all the Arabs to prayer.
As the muezzin continued to sound, echoing off all the hills around, I turned towards Hindy.
“Let’s get inside already. Where do we go?” I was poised to move, to get within the protective walls of a house, away from the creepy music emanating from the neighbours who would be only too happy to destroy us all.
Hindy looked back at me. A veteran visitor here, she didn’t seem to share my apprehension. “I could stand out here all night,” she said dreamily. She took a deep breath and smiled slowly.
“Well, I can’t,” I said. “Please show me where we’re staying. Now.”
Almost reluctantly, Hindy started walking towards the nearest building, and I followed her eagerly, strains of the muezzin’s music still filling my ears.
We climbed the three flights of stairs to the apartment we would be staying in, pulling our suitcases up with us. “The door should be open,” Hindy said quietly. “They told me they wouldn’t lock it tonight so that we could get in.”
They didn’t lock their door for the night just because we were coming? I was shocked. Weren’t they worried someone else would walk in?
But I soon saw that Hindy was right – the handle turned easily, and we entered. I gazed out the window at the sandy landscape. “So this is Eretz Yisrael,” I said to myself.
The next few days were hectic ones as we tried to fit all we wanted to do in the short time we had. The Kosel was a must, and I thrived on the kedushah there, even as I tried to recover from the hostile stares we had encountered as the bus passed through East Jerusalem on the way to this special site.
One evening, I walked around the Old City with my chassan. When I asked about the safety of doing this, he said that he knew his way around well, and I need not worry about the possibility of accidentally venturing into the Arab section. Still, my heart skipped a beat every time we passed a man who didn’t look so Jewish. Maybe this was a terrorist?
The buses were full of black hats, and women and girls immersed in tefillah. All were happy to lend a hand to those juggling many children or carrying weighty packages. I loved the unified atmosphere, the “Jewishness” of it all. Still, I tensed when an Arabic-looking man got on carrying a heavy backpack. Maybe this was a terrorist?
The newspapers back home often described the volatile situation in Eretz Yisrael, and I had always read them with calm interest. Although I certainly hoped everyone living there would stay safe, those reports didn’t really have an impact on my life. I was secure in my home in London, far away from the politics and terror described on the pages titled “Israel News.”