So it’s my last day in Israel. I leave late Monday night, but Monday will be spent with sorting, organizing, giving away, packing, weighing, re-packing…obsessing and fretting over departure. So today was really my last day to “be” in Israel. So this afternoon I kept a date I’ve been meaning to keep. I went up to Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus and re-connected with an acquaintance there in the archaeology department and ended up re-connecting with some items I actually helped to excavate some years ago. By “helped excavate” what I really mean is, “I didn’t break them when I touched them!” The walk up to Mt. Scopus, from which Salahadin launched his assault on Crusader Jerusalem, was glorious, and walking down as the day faded into darkness, feeling my way in the dark down a narrow, steep alley threading down the saddle in the corner formed by the north end of the Mount of Olives and the east end of Mt. Scopus, I began to be…sad. Not sad to be going home! I can’t wait for the moment I see Angie, walk out onto our place, step into my house.
But I still felt wistful that this would be my last night out in the Jerusalem air. The last night I’ll talk about walking down the Mount of Olives. Walking past the southern Temple Mount excavations. The silence of the City of David. Through the Jewish quarter, alive and festive tonight because it’s the second night of Hanukkah and Jewish families are out enjoying themselves, celebrating their national integrity and freedom, made all th emore poignant by the recent conflicts, and remembering Judah “The Hammer” Maccabee, while, in my heart, the Christ child’s image is beginning to glow a little in anticipation.
I anticipate walking through the Zion gate for the last time, dodging the taxis that blow through that narrow, bent-axis gate, leaving little room for error, or pedestrians! I anticipate my last moment to pause, looking down a long alley at the end of which the Church of the Dormition looms, almost like looking down the Siq at the Treasury of Petra. Every time I pass it, I take a picture, hoping I’ll get it right. I never do. Tonight I’ll take the picture. But it won’t capture the moment. You can’t photograph this feeling.
Then I realize what I need to do. There is someone, or something, I need to visit one last time. I stop for some take-out, since JUC’s dining hall is closed, and with my supper in hand, I weave my way back through the festive families in the Jewish quarter to a quiet little enclave where a fence encloses a recessed little courtyard, where about 15 feet down is the “broad wall” of Hezekiah. It’s the first thing I ever saw in Israel that gave me absolute, unmitigated chill bumps of history-loving, Bible reading, pure awe. I’ve come here at least twice a week, just to look and ponder. I’ve seen old Hezekiah’s wall in lots of light, in rain, in blistering sun, with throngs of tourists gaping at something they don’t even comprehend, children giggling on swingsets in the apartment yards adjoining it; little kids running down into the wall to recover an erring plaything. With nobody around, but me, to whisper secrets to.
I’ve whispered a few back.
While pious Jews love to pray at the “wailing wall” built by that monster, Herod the “Great,” in the decades prior to Christ, I’d much rather pray at a wall built by a godly Hebrew king seven centuries prior to decadent, vicious old Herod. It still gives me goose bumps. I look down, not 15 feet, but 2700 years. It’s not the past. It’s the present, it’s just not as easy to see…except when I’m here.
So I eat my burger (kosher!) in the dark, Hezekiah’s wall silent, but alive with innuendo. Looking down, I spy a shadow nosing amongst the shadows. It’s my friend, Hezekiah! Not Hezekiah the King, but Hezekiah the Cat! It’s a little black cat who makes the wall his (or her?) home. I’ve seen Hezekiah (or, if it’s a she, “Rahab,” that other wall-dweller) many times. I stand there, hoping Hezekiah will give me a moment of poetry, pausing, looking back over his shoulder, meeting my eye in a knowing gaze. Connecting, as if to say, “Yes, I know you…”
But he doesn’t give me the poetry. He sniffs at a rock and fades into the darkness. Cats aren’t responsible for giving us poetic moments. But that’s okay. I’ve had plenty of poetry this night.
Good night, Hezekiah.
Both of you.