Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90
General view of Mamila mall, the Mamila project in Jeusalem on it's opening night, May 28 2007.

As brown camouflaged netting was removed from artillery, long open-ended guns moved into position directed from straight above our apartment toward the Old City.

Black can be beautiful, but not always – not when your city is under fire and electricity is off. A blackened sky, a black shelter, a terrifying combination of shelling and explosives suggesting an ostensibly black future. I forced myself to act bravely, to stay calm. But I was petrified – petrified that our shelter would be overrun by Jordanian Legionnaires, that women and children would be taken into captivity. All the worst scenes I remembered from books and films loomed large, far larger than any three-dimensional screen. This was real; it was happening to me.


Following three days of intensive battle we witnessed the most miraculous victory that Israel, and indeed the world, had ever experienced. Heavy concrete walls tumbled down, barbed wire was stripped away, and Jerusalem was reunited.

* * * * *

Our travel office, where I worked for over 30 years, was on Yanai Street, one of the arteries that currently ladle foot traffic directly into the Mamilla Mall. Back then, after the war, Yanai was considered kav hatefer, a dismal dustbin street connecting two sides of the city where rentals were low – the reason we opened our business there. We didn’t seek foot traffic; our clients knew where to find us.

Our glass storefront faced Mamilla’s ruins, and then suddenly those ruins disappeared. I gazed out daily at tractors clearing the rubble, and the days became years as the construction moved at a sluggish pace. Finally, large towers appeared, monumentally replacing the destruction of prior decades. Original stones removed from the old structures were saved and incorporated into the new buildings. Contractors filled the old with new, and architects created the atmosphere characteristic of a reconstructed area.

* * * * *

Strolling along the Mall past jewelry stores and gift shops, I sense Benjamini at my side. No, Benjamini is not a genie or a phantom; Benjamini is a gentle memory of an immigrant Persian shopkeeper.

Mr. Benjamini was a rail-thin man who fifty years ago owned a Jewish ritual objects and jewelry store on Princess Mary Street, known today as Shlomtzion Hamalkah. His tiny shop, filled with exotic and beautifully handcrafted antique items, was at the entrance to a building behind a stairwell.

In the early sixties my husband and I were an odd young couple, oddly American and oddly religious, not a common combination on Jerusalem streets. I dreamed of purchasing for my husband a special surprise gift for his birthday, and Mr. Benjamini helped me choose a handsome silver besamim holder.

My savings, stuffed into a small pouch, was tucked further into a zippered purse. I worried that I hadn’t saved enough to pay for the gift. As I emptied the contents of the pouch onto the glass-topped counter, Mr. Benjamini looked down at the coins and before he counted them his caring, fatherly face broke into a smile. His long lean fingers pushed a few coins toward me.

“Never empty your pouch entirely,” he said. “Always leave something so that it may grow again.”

Jerusalem has never been entirely emptied or abandoned, never depleted of Jews. Despite the destruction of the Temple – despite a scorched city, despite our long dark exile and centuries of starvation and deprivation – gold and silver coins, tarnished and blackened, seeped into the earth, like the men and women who remained in the city, who subsisted in hovels, destitute, depending on handouts from communities in foreign lands.

They guarded the city faithfully, never allowing poverty, disease or death to dishearten them. Always praying for redemption, they waited for pouches to replenish and endured foreign rulers who built and then destroyed. Generations came and went, and today the city is blessed and blossoming under Jewish sovereignty.


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Faigie Heiman is an accomplished short story and essay writer, author of a popular memoir “Girl For Sale,” formerly an Olam Yehudi columnist at The Jewish Press. Born and raised in Williamsburg, she made her home in Israel 63 years ago.